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Gallup Vault: A Presidential Debate No-Show
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: A Presidential Debate No-Show

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter made the tactical decision to skip the first presidential debate because he objected to the inclusion of independent candidate John Anderson. The debate went forward between Anderson and Ronald Reagan on Sept. 21, 1980, but Americans disapproved of Carter's decision. In a Gallup poll conducted shortly before the debate, 61% of registered voters said Carter should not boycott the debate, while just 25% said he should.

President Carter has said that he will not take part in the first (1980 presidential) debate. Do you think he should or should not have made this decision?
  Registered voters
Should have made decision not to take part 25
Should not 61
No opinion 14
Gallup, Sept. 12-16, 1980

According to the Gallup news article at the time, "Large majorities of registered Republicans and independents were critical of the president's decision. And while opinion was more evenly divided among Carter's fellow Democrats, 48% disapproved of his decision and only 38% approved."

Although Anderson relished the opportunity to debate, the scenario may have been most beneficial to Reagan. With Carter not there to rebut him, and Reagan publicly welcoming Anderson's participation, the event gave Reagan ample opportunity to convey his conservative philosophy and to come across as a kinder, less defensive candidate. How much that influenced the race isn't clear, but in Gallup polls bracketing the debate -- conducted Sept. 12-15 and Oct. 10-12 -- support for both Reagan and Carter increased slightly, while Anderson's was cut nearly in half, from 15% to 8%.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

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