Just 50 years ago, it was unheard of for even the nominees of each major political party to debate each other on television. As the media and the electoral process have evolved, the primary season has gotten longer and primary debates have become central to the presidential nomination process. In 2008 specifically, primary debates drew an average of 4 million viewers. During the next presidential campaign, in 2012, more than 5.5 million viewers, on average, tuned into a presidential debate in order to decide which candidate they’d vote for in their state’s own primary. This has been driven by a number of key factors:
- The Rise of the 24-Hour News Cycle
With MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News all competing for viewers, each network has a stake in hosting an exclusive primary debate among a party’s candidates. So, too, do the major networks and niche networks like Univision and Telemundo.
- Hyper-Political Environs in the US
A more politics-centric news and information cycle has inspired greater interest not only in the presidential election itself, but also in the nominating contest and the views held by each of a party’s potential presidential contenders.
- Internet Connectedness and Information Availability
A vast amount of information online has inspired greater interest in each candidate, and many people want to connect the dots between a candidate’s online website and their offline behaviors. Primary debates allow this to happen earlier than ever before.
A Growing Form of Decision-Making
With the ratings and earnings that come from primary debates, and the expressed interest of voters in such a process, the primary debate process looks only to get more extensive and involved. Look for even more networks to throw their hat into the ring in 2016.