Why Biden Chose the Audience’s Right Side for Debate Night

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Joe Biden is celebrating an early win ahead of his presidential debate against Donald Trump, with CNN revealing Thursday he won a coin flip that granted him first dibs on his stage position for next week’s spectacle.

With Biden correctly picking tails, he chose to debate from the Atlanta stage’s left side—a decision that may be more consequential than most think.

That’s because, in a setting that involves two figures, viewers are inherently drawn to the right, experts say, which is where Biden will be displayed on millions of TV screens across the country. That positioning will likely earn Biden an extra chunk of eyeball time by default, assuming viewers can break away from Trump’s repeated antics and interruptions.

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The extra attention to screens’ right is a phenomena that’s been cited as the reason nearly every late-night TV host, from Jimmy Fallon to Steve Allen, have been positioned to the right of their guests in each interview, and it’s likely why Biden’s camp prioritized stage positioning over choosing the order of closing statements. The White House did not immediately respond to questions sent by The Daily Beast on the reasoning behind Biden’s choice.

In a 2010 article on the matter, Slate reported that whatever figure appears to the audience’s right on a stage often appears “more powerful,” with its roots going back to old-school royalty practices.

“In the theory of stagecraft, it’s understood that a rightward placement telegraphs royalty,” the online mag wrote. “So no matter how famous the guest may be, sitting to the left makes him or her seem subservient.”

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With neither Biden nor Trump having faced a significant primary challenger this cycle, they’re both a bit rusty on debates, and any small advantage could weigh heavy. They debated twice in 2020, with Biden having the advantage of appearing on the right of TV screens in both events.

While he lost Thursday’s coin toss, Trump’s camp was still given the choice of deciding the order of closing statements. Trump, not surprisingly, chose to deliver his closing statements last, giving him the final word of the night—something that’s often been cited as a separate advantage in itself.

Trump is likely to be happy with that development, considering just how peeved he was during his hush-money trial that prosecutors got to have the final floor time before he was ultimately convicted.

The big event is slated to begin at 9 p.m. on June 27 on CNN, with anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash as moderators.

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