Why you should boycott the presidential debates

Following Tuesday’s debacle, it is worthwhile to reconsider our participation, as the viewers, in the age-old institution known as the presidential debates.

David J Lee
4 min readSep 30, 2020


Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash

Upon first glance, the presidential debates sound like important events that every responsible citizen should tune into. Here are four points for why that is not true for this election and why it is actually more responsible to not watch the presidential debates. Caveats are listed at the end.

Nothing new to learn

At this point in time, for anyone who has paid attention to politics the past two years, they ought to have been familiarized with the character traits of Joe Biden and Donald Trump. This means that there is nothing new to learn regarding the character of either candidate by watching the debate.

So, if one were to watch the debate to learn anything, it would be about policy. A debate is not the best place to learn about policy as the candidates are more interested in persuasion than communicating policy complexities. Learning about policy is better done through reading and individual research. Also, if you have been paying attention before the debate, you should already be well acclimated to the major policy points.

The only new realm of learning is meta. The debates are indicators of who is going to win. Even so, the debates only partially signal who is going to win. Your time is better spent reading professional analyses of debate performance than spending the hour and a half making sense of the debate in real-time. *See caveats at the end.

Of course, these points are only valid if one has been paying attention. If you have only started paying attention to the election now you probably don’t care and you are only watching the debates as entertainment.

The debates won’t change your mind

Once again, if you have been paying attention, you ought to have already have made up your mind about who you’re voting for. If the debates have genuine influence about how you’re voting you need to dig deeper regarding your values and rewatch the debate. If none of the information is new, there is no reason for the debate to change your mind.

Or, if you did not have your mind made up already and you have been on the fence about voting, you ought to decide if your vote is being influenced by charisma and personality over character and policy.

The debates shouldn’t have a meaningful say in how anyone votes. If there is any information that is truly new, it will be reported on.

The debates are not good for you

Many will watch the debates so that they can talk badly about the opposing candidate. This is celebrity gossip masquerading as civic engagement. Awareness is good and knowing the candidates is good but there is little value in repeating the things that many already know Joe Biden or Donald Trump have already said. Having difficult discussions with those that disagree with us is what will heal the country. Not ramblings about debate performance.

Send a message to the media

If debate moderators wanted proper debates they would have already changed the debate format. This was not an issue in the past because debate performances were more civil. Watching Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spar with words was not only educational to the uninformed viewer but also inspirational. Today’s debates are a national disgrace. Democrats and Republicans.

It’s naive to believe that television crews on Fox and CNN couldn’t simply cut the mics of candidates when they run past time or when it’s not their turn to speak. They have the best audio crews in the world. They can utilize their resources to create civil debates. Some may argue that this seems unnatural and doesn’t respect the candidates. I would say that if you act like a child, expect to be treated like one.

Media companies have no reason to change the debate format. It’s actually more profitable for the debates to go off the rails and for candidates to cut each other off. The debates are a means of capturing viewers, not communicating the truth. It is better for them if the debates mimic reality TV than drab politics.

The media gets away with this because you watch the debates. Your individual boycott may not do anything but it’s worthwhile for Americans to decide if they play a part in the charade that is the presidential debates. See the debates for what they truly are, nonsense. Don’t give the media your attention but find other ways to civically engaged. Hopefully, by now I have convinced you that you don’t need to watch the debates to be a responsible citizen.


You should watch the debates if

  • You’re a journalist
  • You’re a pundit
  • You need to make decisions based on political salience and attitudes
  • You need to make decisions based on election outcomes
  • You have other good reasons for knowing the “meta” of US election
  • You have literally never heard of Joe Biden or Donald Trump in your life