Election Watch 2: The first presidential debate

Election Watch map debate

On September 29, Donald Trump and Joe Biden square off for the first time in the race to become the next President of the United States.

Before working with Election Watch 2 below, you should read “All of the People” and “Election Watch: Introduction”.


Since the Democratic and Republican conventions in August, several issues have come to dominate the presidential campaign. Donald Trump has made great efforts to turn the discussion to the support of law and order and the police in the face of continued and sometimes violent demonstrations against police brutality towards black people. Joe Biden has focused much of his campaign on Trump’s mishandling of the corona crisis as the number of COVID-19 deaths in the nation soars past 200,000.

Then, most recently, the death of liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has set off a storm of debate about whether her place should be filled before the election (by a conservative Republican candidate nominated by Donald Trump) or after the election (by a liberal Democratic candidate nominated by Joe Biden – if he is elected). Given that a Supreme Court Justice sits for life, this could have a major impact on the Supreme Court for decades to come. Therefore all the fuss.

(For more insight into this matter, see Access to English: Social Studies, "The Supreme Court – judicial powers", p. 188). 

The members of the US Supreme Court in 2017. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (bottom row to the left) passed away on September 18. (Oliver Diouly/DPA/NTB) The members of the US Supreme Court in 2017. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (bottom row to the left) passed away on September 18. (Oliver Diouly/DPA/NTB)

You will find that all these matters are reflected in the first Presidential debate.


The First Presidential Debate, September 29, 9:00–10:30 pm  

(Norway: September 30, 03:00 – 04:30)

Presidential debates on national TV began in the 1960s. In 1987 a permanent bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was set up. It decides where the debates take place, how they organized, who moderates them and what topics are taken up.

The first debate will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes, each on major topics selected by the moderator. For this debate, there will be six topics (not necessarily in the order below):

  • The Trump and Biden Political Records
  • The Supreme Court
  • Covid-19
  • The Economy
  • Race and Violence in our Cities
  • The Integrity of the Election


For a detailed description of all the debates for 2020 see:


The commission provides complete transcripts of debates after they are held, so you will want to go to its website when answering the questions below. The address is:



Election Watch debate PREPARATION

You might want to prepare a little before the debate by looking at some of the issues the moderator has decided to take up. 


The Trump and Biden records:

Who is Donald Trump and What Does He Stand For?


Political Career of Donald Trump


Who is Joe Biden and What Does He Stand For?


Joe Biden’s Political Record



Overviews of positions the candidates have taken on political issues:

Reuters: Where Biden and Trump stand on key issues – graphics


ProCon - Compare 2020 Presidential Candidate Positions


Ballotpedia – Click on Candidates on the Issues and select the issue you want


CNN – Click on Trump’s/Biden’s stances on the issues


BBC - Where does Trump stand on key issues?


BBC - Where does Biden stand on key issues?




Pew Research Institute: The 2020 Trump Biden Matchup




AFTER THE DEBATE: Questions to work with

  1. Of the six topics taken up in the debate, which do you think will be most important in deciding who wins the election? Why?
  2. What issue did the candidates seem to disagree most about? Which of the candidates did you find yourself agreeing with? Why?
  3. How did the speaking styles of Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ? Which do you think was the most effective?
  4. What did the media have to say about who won this debate afterwards?
  5. Who do you think won the debate?
  6. What effect has it had on the polls?




CPD Manuscript of the debate


CNN – America’s Choice 2020


BBC – US Election


US News – America 2020


Washington Post – Election 2020


New York Times – Election 2020


Fox News – Democracy 2020


National Public Radio – 2020 Election


Gallup’s 2020 Presidential Election Center



Election Polls