AllPolitics - Debates '96

1980 Presidential Debates


The news in 1980 was Carter not participating in the first general election debate because of the presence of Independent candidate John Anderson, and Reagan out-performing Carter in the second debate (in which Anderson did not participate). In this debate, when Carter accused Reagan of planning to cut Medicare, Reagan (who had complained Carter was mis-representing his stands on a number of issues) responded with the now-famous line: "There you go again." A question Reagan posed in his closing statement also is remembered: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" ( 672K QuickTime movie)

Carter performed adequately, but made at least one major tactical error by ending a serious discussion on nuclear weapons with the statement, "I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was ..." Most thought the attempt to humanize the issue, and put it in the context of future generations, simply didn't work, and thought it bizarre. Some said such a line from an incumbent President would have worked much better in print than in a nationally televised debate.

P R E S I D E N T I A L  D E B A T E  # 1

Date: September 21, 1980
Location: Baltimore, MD
Site: Baltimore Convention Center
Participants: Ronald Reagan (R), John Anderson (Independent)
Moderator: Bill Moyers, PBS
Charles Corddry, Baltimore Sun
Soma Golden, New York Times
Daniel Greenberg, Syndicated columnist
Carol Loomis, Fortune Magazine
Lee May, Los Angeles Times
Jane Bryant Quinn, Newsweek
Panelist questions, candidates have two and a half minutes to respond, followed by one minute, 15 seconds for each candidate to rebut the other's response. Three minutes for closing remarks.


Carter refused to take part in the debate, and as a result, the television audience was less than half the average for presidential debates. Reagan took the opportunity to counter Carter's attack that he was too conservative for the country and displayed his optimistic view of America -- concluding with: "We can meet our destiny... for all mankind, a shining city on a hill."

Reagan also discussed his major campaign themes such as cutting taxes, cutting government and increasing military strength. He also attacked Carter's economic record. Anderson used the time to tell a national audience of his criticisms of Reagan's and Carter's election economic proposals: "Let me tell you that I, first of all, oppose an election-year tax cut." Anderson vowed to raise taxes on gasoline to encourage conservation.

Polls conducted after the debate indicated that Reagan succeeded in tempering his staunch conservative image. Anderson's standing in the polls went down, and he was not invited to participate in the second debate.

P R E S I D E N T I A L  D E B A T E  # 2

Date: October 28, 1980
Location: Cleveland, OH
Site: Convention Center Music Hall
Participants: Jimmy Carter (D), Ronald Reagan (R)
Moderator: Howard K. Smith, ABC
Harry Ellis, Christian Science Monitor
William Hilliard, Portland Oregonian
Marvin Stone, US News & World Report
Barbara Walters, ABC
Questions from panelists with two minutes to respond, follow-up question with one minute to respond. Same question given to other candidates with same time constraints. Each candidate given one minute to challenge another candidate's response. Followed by question from panelists to each candidate, with two minutes to respond, and one and a half minutes to rebut. Three minutes for closing statements.


Held just a week before the election, the debate received much attention.

Reagan had all the best lines. To Carter's attack that he would cut Medicare, he quipped, "There you go again." And in his closing remarks, Reagan asked, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

Top issues included inflation, the energy crisis, terrorism, the troubles with America's inner cities and defense policy (particularly nuclear weapons). Carter ticked off specific constituencies that had benefitted from his programs, and tried to depict Reagan as an irresponsible loose cannon on nuclear matters. Carter's most memorable (and many analysts say worst) moment came at the end of a lengthy discussion of nuclear weapons. Carter said:

"I think to close out this discussion, it would be better to put into perspective what we're talking about. I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry -- and the control of nuclear arms." Most analysts concluded this so-called "Amy speech" didn't work. Reagan stressed his experience as governor, the weak economy he accused Carter of creating, and he presented a moderate, upbeat image.

AllPolitics home page

[] Copyright © 1996 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved
Terms under which this information is provided to you