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US Election 2012 Live Blog

Presidential debates through the years

Last modified: 24 Oct 2012 05:20

On only two occasions, in 1980 and 1992, were independent candidates invited to participate in presidential debates with candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties. Independent John Anderson debated Reagan in 1980, and independent Ross Perot debated Bill Clinton and George H W Bush in 1992.

The first presidential debate was the classic face-off between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Radio listeners thought Nixon had won, but TV viewers gave the win to Kennedy after Nixon famously sweated under the hot TV lights.

From 1976-1984, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters ran the presidential debates. But in 1987, the LWV – angry with the Democratic and Republican candidates' attempts to control how the debates would be run – ended their sponsorship of the debates. Their press release read, in part:

It has become clear to us that the candidates' organisations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.

The role was taken over by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is run by representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, and the CPD has run every debate from 1988 on. The CPD only allows candidates who register 15 per cent support in the polls to participate.

None of this year's third-party candidates met that threshold.