Americans have no shortage of opinions about this year’s presidential race. Many would prefer any viable candidate other than President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Others are staunch supporters of one or the other.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found 26% of Americans held unfavorable views of both candidates. Even Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, told a press conference last fall, “I would love to see some new choices. And by the way, I’m not alone.”

But that doesn’t mean that America wouldn’t benefit from seeing Trump and Biden debate.

At the moment, the Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled three debates for the fall. The last one, on Oct. 9, would be held at the University of Utah.

However, it’s uncertain whether any debates actually will be held. Trump has repeatedly said he would debate the president anywhere, any time and any place. He featured an empty lectern at a recent rally, which symbolized the president’s reluctance to debate.

For his part, Biden has been vague about whether he would participate, saying much depends on Trump’s behavior.

Certainly, Americans remember the interruptions and uncivil behavior that characterized debates in 2020. Trump pulled out of the second debate after contracting COVID-19 and refusing to debate remotely. A third debate was held later in October

Regardless of the dramatics, debates are good for the nation. They are essential for democracy.

A coalition of 12 news organizations signed a letter last weekend urging the two candidates to follow through on the scheduled debates. We agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter concerning the importance of continuing this tradition, which has continued every four years since 1976.

People may hold one or the other candidate, or perhaps both, in contempt. But no one should doubt the seriousness of the issues facing the nation today.

The Middle East is a tinderbox, with Israel considering possible retaliations against Iran for launching missiles and drones against it in recent days, a move that may broaden a difficult proxy war involving Hamas. Russia remains at war with Ukraine, whose president is begging the United States for more military support. Tensions are rising between China and the United States. The nation’s southern border remains a huge concern for many Americans.

Meanwhile, the nation’s ballooning debt is at $34.5 trillion and is rapidly becoming a concern that threatens the nation’s ability to fund programs while maintaining a strong military. Persistent inflation is consistently devaluing the purchasing power of every American, even as it makes the nation’s debt more difficult to service. Social Security and Medicare are nearing bankruptcy.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the joint media statement said. “Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.”

The debates are widely viewed every four years. The Nielsen ratings said 63 million people watched the last debate in 2020.

It’s true that these debates have recently not been a model of decorum. Still, they have provided information about the positions and general character of the candidates, and a level of candor and comparison that can’t be achieved through carefully scripted television ads or rallies.

The debates also are a unique example of American democracy.

“The United States’ general election debates, watched live worldwide, are a model for many other countries: the opportunity to hear and see leading candidates address serious issues in a fair and neutral setting,” debate commission co-chairs Frank Fahrenkopf and Antonia Hernández said in a statement last fall.

A nation that honors a tradition of debates is one that is confident in its democracy and in the belief that power properly resides with the people. We add our voice to those urging the major candidates to adhere to the debate commission’s schedule for 2024. Regardless of any other factors, the nation needs this.