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Ask the Editors Ask the Editors Archive

Today's Question:

When was the first televised debate between two presidential candidates?

The Answer:

The first series of presidential debates between two candidates ever televised was the Richard M. Nixon-John F. Kennedy debates during the 1960 campaign.

The first of those four debates was held on Sept. 26, 1960 at the Chicago television studios of WBBM, a CBS affiliate. The three remaining debates were held on Oct. 7, 13, and 21, respectively.

The largest political audience to date—approximately 70 million people—tuned in on the evening of Sept. 26 to watch that historic telecast, which was carried by all three networks.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago has created a fantastic site to learn more about the history of televised presidential debates, beginning with the Nixon-Kennedy debates.

Here is a link to that site as well as a link to information at the JFK Library in Boston.
The Great Debate
JFK Library

The first televised debate that included an incumbent president and a candidate for the office occurred on Sept. 23, 1976. On that evening President Gerald R. Ford debated Democratic hopeful Jimmy Carter at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, Penn.

—The Editors

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