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Debate preview: Biden, Trump come face-to-face for first time since 2020

Voters expect former President Trump to outperform President Biden in the first general election debate of 2024.
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Posted at 8:13 AM, Jun 27, 2024

The first of at least two presidential debates is on Thursday. Thursday's debate marks the first time President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have been face-to-face since the last debate of the 2020 election cycle.

A lot has happened since then, including the 2020 election itself, the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, massive inflation and a criminal trial that concluded with the conviction of Trump.

This is also by far the earliest a debate between major party nominees has ever been held, which could raise the stakes for the debate.

In a poll released by the New York Times this week, among registered voters, when asked if they had to decide now who to vote for, Trump had a 39-32 advantage over President Biden, but 11% couldn't or wouldn't answer.

The same poll showed that 74% of those asked say they plan to tune in to the debate.

Here is what you need to know and how to tune in:

When is the debate?

The debate begins Thursday at 9 p.m. ET and is expected to last 90 minutes.

How can I watch the debate?

Scripps News will air CNN's simulcast of the debate live on-air and online. To find Scripps News on air or watch on Scripps News' website, click here.

Scripps News' live coverage of the debate starts at 6 p.m. ET.

Who will participate?

Presumptive Democratic nominee Biden and presumptive Republican nominee Trump have accepted invitations to participate. Independent candidates, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Jill Stein, did not meet the criteria for an invitation. Several independent candidates have threatened legal action over not being included.

Related story: Candidates make preparations for first presidential debate of 2024

Who will moderate?

Longtime CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will serve as moderators. Tapper joined CNN in 2012, while Bash has been with the network for over two decades.

Debate rules

According to CNN, moderators will be allowed to mute the candidates' microphones during the debate when it is not their turn to speak. CNN also said that there will be two commercial breaks during the 90-minute debate, but campaign staff will not be allowed to interact with candidates during these intermissions.

Candidates will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water, but they are not allowed to bring any prewritten notes or props with them to the stage, organizers said.

What's different about this debate?

For the first time since 1984, leading presidential candidates will debate outside the auspices of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns criticized the debate-organizing nonprofit for its format.

Instead, President Biden and Trump formalized agreements with CNN and ABC News allowing them to organize and simulcast two presidential debates. A vice presidential debate will also be organized by CBS News between Vice President Kamala Harris and Trump's yet-to-be-named running mate.

Another big departure from past debates: No audience. In the past, presidential debates had an audience, but that will not be the case on Thursday.

Related story: Trump says he's decided on a running mate ahead of this Thursday's debate

Economy top issue on voters' minds

This week's New York Times poll found that the economy ranked as the No. 1 issue determining a person's vote. Another top issue listed was inflation and the cost of living.

Abortion, immigration and the character of the candidates are also major deciding factors, the poll found.

When asked, "Which candidate do you think would do a better job of handling the issue you think is most important?" 51% said Trump compared to 37% who said President Biden.

Health care, education, student loans, gun policies and war in the Middle East had much lower interest from voters.

Trump has higher debate expectations, poll finds

The recent New York Times poll found that 60% of registered voters think Trump will do either somewhat well or very well in the debate. Meanwhile, only 48% think President Biden will do very or somewhat well.