It is often a challenge for those of us who blog about politics to gage how our fellow Americans, less interested in such matters, view the political landscape.
As long as they’re free to live their lives and pursue their passions, most Americans really don’t care all that much about politics. So, sometimes I wonder if Americans only pay close attention to politics when they think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
This thought came to mind when I heard that the debate Wednesday night attracted the largest audience for any presidential debate since 1980. As one reader put it, in a private communication with me, “so people ARE interested because they are feeling the heat of the last few years” (his emphasis).
They’re now saying the debate “reached more than 70 million”. By contrast, in 2008, only 52.4 million watched the first debate between John McCain and Barack Obama four years ago. More people watched this debate than watched the Palin-Biden face-off in 2008, an event which drew the largest audience of any debate since the Clinton-HW Bush-Perot exchange in 1992. But, according to Dan McLaughlin at RedState, “While the Kennedy-Nixon debate remains the most-watched by audience share, the single largest debate audience remains the sole Reagan-Carter debate in 1980, which drew 80.6 million viewers.”
We had large audiences for presidential debates in 1992 and 1980, both years in which incumbent presidents were running for reelection. But, the audiences were not so large in 1984, 1996 or 2004, also years when incumbents were seeking a second term.
How to explain the difference?