How long is the presidential debate how does it compare to previous elections?

Graeme Massie and Matt Mathers
·2-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

America's gaping political divide will be laid bare again on Thursday night as Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden go head-to-head in the third and final presidential debate of the 2020 race for the White House.

In what will be a mostly empty auditorium at Tennessee's Belmont University, the two candidates will set out their competing visions for the country and clash over some of the most important issues facing Americans, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

With less than two weeks to go until election day, the debate will be the last opportunity for both candidates to command the attention of millions of Americans as they seek to shore up votes among their respective political bases and win over floating voters yet to decide on who they want in the Oval Office come next year.

The clash will air for 90 minutes without commercial interruption from 21:00EST - 22:30EST (2AM GMT, 23 October ) on NBC. The debate will be hosted by network’s White House correspondent, Kristen Welker.

Ms Welker is also set to quiz the two candidates on American families, national security and leadership, with both Mr Trump and Mr Biden each given two minutes to answer. A coin toss will decide who gets to answer the first question and who gives their concluding remarks.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has organised election debates for more than three decades and each contest has been 90 minutes in length, apart from 1980, when Ronald Regan and Jimmy Carter went at it for an hour.

Historians say that modern debates can be traced to a series of Illinois Senate debates held by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Both men attended seven debates and slugged it out for around three hours.

In 1940 Wendell Wilkie became the first 20th century candidate to challenge his opponent to a debate but then-president Franklin Roosevelt refused to take part.

The first televised presidential debate took place in 1960, between John Kennedy and then-vice president Richard Nixon, with Kennedy going on to win the race for the White House.

Lyndon Johnson refused to debate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and there was not another debate for 16 years.

In 2016 the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became the most watched ever with 84 million viewers.

It beat the1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, which saw 80.2 million viewers tune in.

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