Making Democracy Work

Your Guide to How to Watch A Debate

Candidate Debates - An American Tradition


Candidate debates have a long history in American politics. At every level of government--from city council to state legislature, from Congress to President of the United States--candidates participate in debates to help voters understand who and what they stand for.

At the same time, we can watch debates with a critical eye in order to get the most out of them. Many candidates rehearse thoroughly for debates, making it hard to get candid, spontaneous answers. Debates--and the extensive commentary afterwards--can tend to emphasize form over substance, such as the candidates' appearance instead of their stands on the issues. You may watch a debate and still not get answers to the questions you have about the candidates and issues.

Watching debates is one of the best ways that we can educate ourselves before we head to the voting booth. Luckily, when it comes to figuring out how to get the most out of debate-watching (and having fun while doing it!), League of Women Voters has your back.

Debate Watching 101

The League of Women Voters has steps for you to take before, during and after watching a debate.

Our Open Letter to the Presidential and Vice Presidential Debate Moderators

The League of Women Voters knows a thing or two about moderating presidential debates.

Here are the most important lessons the League of Women Voters has learned over nearly a century of sponsoring and moderating candidate debates.

1. Debates aren't about the candidates.
2. The best defense is a good offense.
3. Seek authentic public input.
4. Stay above the fray.

Read more in our open letter to Anderson Cooper, Lester Holt, Elaine Quijano, Martha Raddatz and Chris Wallace.

Four Reasons To Watch the Debates

Doing research and knowing where you stand on the issues is a great start. But to really get the most information on the candidates and their stances, you can watch the candidate debates. Attending or watching a candidate debate is one of the best ways to prepare for casting your ballot. And if you follow our advice, watching debates can be as fun as it is informative!

Studies show that attending a debate can impact your vote, and that Americans are more likely to vote when they feel informed about the candidates.

Here are four reasons that you should attend or watch a candidate debate.

Have some Fun!

Candidate debates can spark interesting and surprising discussions about how politics affects your lives. To add some spirit to your debate watching party, invite your guests to arrive early so that you can offer some viewing tips to keep things lively. The key is to find ways to make the `watching' part of the party a more active experience.

Learn more about the League of Women Voters' public policy positions.