- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
In theory, this was the debate America apparently desired. In reality, all the available evidence suggests they didn’t.
For months, the personal, reality-TV-driven element woven into the fabric of the 2016 presidential race had been decried.
Americans deserve better, the talking heads said. The race for the most important office in the world should be debated on measures of important policy and substance, not tabloid-level gossip. Less talk about Donald Trump’s fights with Miss Universe and more about the candidates’ distinct foreign-policy differences, for instance.
Well, that’s exactly what Tuesday’s vice presidential face-off between Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine delivered – and instead of being praised, it was largely panned as boring.
In real-time, viewers weren’t impressed. Take a look at some of the reaction on Twitter:
VP debate living up to the hype! Every bit as boring as we thought it would be.
— Joe Heim (@JoeHeim) October 5, 2016
Forgot what it’s like when two evenly matched, rational and experienced politicians debate on the national stage. It’s boring.
— Ryan Williams (@RyanGOP) October 5, 2016
1/ A few thoughts on tonight’s debate, the Duel of the Dads, the Battle of the Boring…
— Reid Wilson (@PoliticsReid) October 5, 2016
— Reza Elghazi (@_rez_) October 5, 2016
They didn’t look thrilled in the crowd, either.
Here’s a Reuters photo of the Longwood University audience. Attendees were not as engrossed as the pundits may have led you to predict:
- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
And the evidence afterward confirmed the lackluster real-time sentiment. The event amassed less than half the audience that tuned into last week’s record-breaking presidential debate, and it garnered the lowest vice presidential-debate ratings since 2000:
Between CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, looks like around 36 million viewers for VP debate. Less than 1/2 of Prez debate
— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) October 5, 2016
As it turns out, the broader electorate – and even those in the political world – is not very intrigued by lengthy discussions on criminal-justice reform, America’s posture in Eastern Europe, or taxes.
What people actually want is a fight.
Voters may not openly admit it, but they crave the kind of gutter campaign Trump has run this election cycle. It’s in fact precisely this kind of politics people most want to consume – politics spliced with plenty of drama.
And perhaps there is nothing wrong with that. It’s human nature to gravitate toward conflict.
In-depth discussions on public policy are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Watching a presidential candidate lob personal insults at another onstage for 90 minutes, on the other hand, is entertaining and an easy concept to grasp.
But it does seem jarring for the very people who complain about the election being a circus to yawn when it isn’t one.
If reaction to last night’s debate proved one thing, it’s that America doesn’t want a civil debate. It wants a fight, but still isn’t ready to admit it.