Rating the Presidential Debates with PDF ballot

October 06, 2004


Most polls are indicating a tight race in the forthcoming U. S. presidential election. According to political pundits, a small percentage of still-undecided citizens are poised to cast the decisive votes for either George W. Bush or John Kerry on November 2. A series of nationally televised debates between the two major party candidates offers perhaps the best chance for likely voters to compare the Republican and Democratic nominees.

Bush and Kerry squared off in round one on September 30, and their respective vice-presidential candidates had their lone verbal showdown on October 5. Following both 90-minute give-and-takes, surrogates for each party queued up to spin the post-debate reviews, proclaiming their candidate the victor and attacking the other.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is encouraging viewers -- especially young voters and students -- to do their own debate analysis. PBS' Online Newshour is offering a "Presidential Debate Lesson Activity that includes a PDF-based public forum debates ballot [PDF: 1.2 MB] from the National Forensic League. The one-page document, designed to help "focus on the substance of the debate instead of just the style," is basically a scorecard with room for taking notes on how each candidate handles each question during the debate. The lesson suggests that students "refrain from watching 'analysts' or 'experts' on TV -- or read any post-debate analysis" until they have completed their debate ballot.

debate ballot

Students can next examine media coverage of the debates and make use of a similar worksheet [PDF: 58kb] titled "How the Media Covers the Debates" to study "the criteria they used when rating the debaters' performances (analysis, evidence, reasoning, cross-fire, rebuttal, delivery) and then analyze what the media portrays as the most important part of the debate."

Bush and Kerry are scheduled for two more debates.

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