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Engaging Young Voters in the Political Process: U.S. Presidential Debates and YouTube

Communication and Information Technologies Annual

ISBN: 978-1-78441-454-2, eISBN: 978-1-78441-453-5

Publication date: 30 January 2015


The growth in popularity of new media has led some television networks in the United States to experiment with alternative forms of political debate by encouraging viewers of all ages to submit video questions to political candidates. Surprisingly, however, experimentation with this new type of debate format in the 2008 U.S. presidential election cycle did not lead to the adoption of new debate formats in the subsequent 2012 election cycle, despite its success with viewing audiences. This study examines various debate formats to understand the value of participatory, user-generated debate question formats versus more traditional debate question formats whereby moderators or live audience members ask presidential candidates scripted questions.

Using a between-subjects experiment, this study examines four types of televised debate formats to assess young adult viewers’ impressions of each format as well as image perceptions of a political candidate and the individual posing the debate question.

The findings suggest debate formats impact perceptions of a political candidate’s image differently for young men and young women. In addition, varying the debate format impacts young voters’ perceptions of debate questioners as well as their overall perceptions of the debate. Implications for viewing audiences are discussed.

U.S. presidential candidates should embrace presidential debate formats that encourage citizens to participate in the political process via new media technologies.

This study shows implementing more engaging and interactive presidential debate formats can positively impact young voters’ perceptions.



Brubaker, P.J., Horning, M. and Toula, C.M. (2015), "Engaging Young Voters in the Political Process: U.S. Presidential Debates and YouTube", Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 9), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 29-51.



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