Political junkies in America have often looked admiringly across the pond at the rousing debates in the United Kingdom’s weekly Questions to the Prime Minister, where members of the House of Commons sharply argue with the elected leader of the U.K. in a public forum. The British, however, have also longed for an American political tradition that dates back to 1960: the nationally televised pre-election debate. Before the May 6 election, the leaders of the three prominent political parties (Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) will participate in Britain’s first ever televised election debates — the first being tonight. A substantial majority of Americans (80%) watched at least a little of the 2008 presidential debates between Barack Obama and John McCain, and most had a positive impression of the debates. Large majorities said the debates were interesting (77%) and informative (70%) — but only half (49%) said the debates were entertaining. While Democrats and Republicans were equally likely to have watched the debates, Democrats were more likely than GOP viewers to say they were interesting, informative and entertaining. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.