First Advisor

Lisbeth Lipari

Term of Graduation

Spring 1998

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Speech Communication


Speech Communication




Campaign debates -- United States, Presidents -- United States -- Election



Physical Description

1 online resource (89 pages)


Every four years in America we make a decision about which candidate is best suited to be our next president. Over the past twenty years a standard component of the presidential campaign has been televised debates. These debates are supposed to help the public get a better understanding of the candidates' ideas about government, our future, and to demonstrate analytical skills and their ability to think on their feet.

This study set out to see how the candidates' arguments measured up to some basic argumentation standards. According to several scholars, none of the televised presidential debates qualify as 'true debates', and this study found a decline in the candidates' use of supporting data for their claims. During the most recent campaign, between Clinton and Dole, the candidates had more unsubstantiated claims during the debates than Kennedy and Nixon did in 1960. The ratio of supported and unsupported claims changed: in 1996 a majority of the candidates' claims were unsupported by any kind of evidence; in 1960 the reverse was true.

A representative sample of questions and the candidates' responses were analyzed using Toulmin's Model of argument. Toulmin's Model has three basic components: a claim; a supporting data statement; and a warrant statement that justifies the logical leap from the evidence to the claim, and which can be stated or implied. This study found a trend in presidential debate argumentation; to have less and less complete arguments and more unsupported claims, which are often just restatements of previously heard campaign slogans and promises, just presented in a different forum.

If the public is to make an intelligent decision about who should lead the nation for the next four years, then there needs to be a return back to a more traditional debate style, with more well thought out arguments and less sloganeering. The task of choosing a president is one that should not be taken lightly, and to best serve the ideas of democracy we need presidential debates that better fulfill their civic purpose and provide an environment for intelligent and thought provoking discourse and debate.


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