Round Up: Leaders’ Debate in Australia Heads to Facebook, Lessons Learned in Jamaica & More

Plus: Debate coalitions in Utah and Washington state aim for more public forums as national third parties aim for the presidential debate stage. And is the audience-engagement tool known as the worm an endangered species?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces online leaders’ debate to be broadcast on Facebook Live.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces the next leaders’ debate will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

Australian Debates Go from Tired and Predictable to New and … We’ll See

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten will try a new format in their third debate match-up: Facebook Live.

The debate, which will be hosted by Facebook and the News Corp Australia-owned, could take place as early as next week.

“These are the platforms that many people, many would say most Australians, see most of their media on, most of their news, and I think it’s important that we have an innovative election and that we use the platforms that Australians use,” said Turnbull, whose challenge to Shorten to hold a debate online was readily accepted.
“This will enable millions of Australians to participate, they will be able to contribute, it will engage a vastly wider audience than the formats that we’ve used before,” Turnbull added. 
Daniel Sankey, editor of, emphasized the potential for interactivity: “The Facebook Live platform will give all Australians the ability to not just watch, but to actively participate, in the debate.”
Previous Debates Fail to Engage Voters
Phillip Coorey, the Australian Financial Review’s chief political correspondent, has a good overview of the two earlier debates featuring Turnbull and Shorten. The first, a town-hall style “people’s forum” hosted by the pay-channel Sky News, attracted only 37,000 viewers; networks refused to carry it.
A more structured debate featuring a panel of journalists attracted more viewers—shown on two ABC channels, it had a combined average viewing audience of 628,000—but drew criticism for the candidates’ mostly scripted responses.
That debate, wrote Coorey, “cast fresh doubt on the future of what has been an election campaign staple amid concerns it has become a tired and obsolete format.”

Shorten attended another Sky News people’s forum Wednesday, but Turnbull skipped it, choosing instead to do a news program. The Guardian tracked both events.
Wither the Worm?
Meanwhile, Fleur Anderson, also writing for the Financial review, notes that the audience engagement tool known as the worm is becoming an endangered species, overtaken by a force known as Twitter.
“As much as they publicly deny it, both Labor and Coalition campaign headquarters are scrutinising social media ‘mentions’ to gauge their candidates’ performance. So far Mr. Turnbull is winning the ‘mentions’ contest hands down over Bill Shorten,” writes Anderson. “But as Jonathan Harley, Twitter’s head of media partnerships, observes: ‘a mention does not equal affection and followers do not equal electibility.’”
It would appear the ultimate audience-tracking beast is still elusive.
“For me, the most perfect and powerful data would be if we could track sentiment live through an election debate, or through an entire campaign,” said Harley. “We are not quite there yet.”
Read more at Civicist about the use of the worm in political debates.
EU Referendum
“With the polls suggesting that the EU referendum is too close to call at the moment, much of Britain’s European fate lies in the hands of the voters who still haven’t firmly made up their minds,” writes Marcus Roberts, an executive project director at YouGov.
Those undecided voters also happen to be big TV watchers, notes Roberts, so the televised debates and other events are likely to be influential. On Tuesday night, Prime Minister David Cameron and UKIP leader Nigel Farage appeared separately in an ITV event titled “Cameron and Farage Live: The EU Referendum.” They each underwent 30 minutes of grilling from a studio audience but didn’t debate each other.

ITV on Thursday will hold a UK-wide referendum debate, featuring a slate of politicians, including Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Representatives of both sides will answer questions from the audience and take part in a “free-flowing” debate. ITV is soliciting questions via
Here’s a full list of EU debates leading up to the vote on June 23. The list includes an event sponsored by Buzzfeed and Facebook on June 10 that Cameron is scheduled to attend.
Jamaica: Lessons Learned
The decision by former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller not to participate in a national debate was a “fatal” error that cost the then ruling People’s National Party the election, according to a formal review of the party’s defeat.
“Post-election polls and focus groups have indicated that this was the main reason we lost the election,” reported the committee commissioned to assess the loss, according to the Jamaica Observer. The decision also “created the notion that the party was arrogant and nonchalant in its treatment of the public in general.”

U.S. Presidential Debates

Places, Everyone: Does the Libertarian campaign have a shot at the presidential debates? The poll numbers are encouraging, writes Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan.
Meanwhile, The Hill published a column by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein advocating that the debates be open to “all candidates who are on the ballot for a majority of voters, representing a potential majority of electoral college votes. This rule would typically give us debates with 4 to 6 candidates in total.”

Debating Our Future: The University of Notre Dame’s 2016 Forum will consider the presidential campaign “through the lens of debates past and present” and look at the role of debates in the democratic process.

The forum’s first event in September features a conversation among presidential debate moderators Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer, along with Dorothy Ridings, former president of the League of Women Voters. Both Ridings and Lehrer are members of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Notre Dame president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, also a member of the Commission, will serve as convener.

State Debates

New Jersey: We previously highlighted a scheduled primary debate between 1st Congressional District Rep. David Norcross, a Democrat, and his progressive challenger, Alex Law, noting that a diverse coalition of groups was backing the debate. Fuggedaboudit.

Law pushed for more public access and livestreaming, and ultimately the NAACP committee organizing the event pulled out. Norcross defeated the 25-year-old challenger handily in Tuesday’s primary.
“We have proof that if you come after one of us, you come after all of us,” State Sen. James Beach, the Camden County Democratic Party chairman, told a cheering crowd celebrating Norcross’s victory.

New York: Adding to the number of editorials and columns we’ve highlighted advocating for local debates, columnist Michael Fitzgerald makes the case for debates in the Finger Lakes region, particularly around water quality issues.
Candidates in other parts of New York are lining up for the chance to discuss the issues. Democrats in the 24th Congressional District have agreed to take part in three debates in the last week before the June 28 primary, and Democratic and Republican primary candidates in the 19th District have committed to a series of debates. At least one of the debates in both races will be televised.
Oregon: The Oregonian editorial board is encouraging Gov. Kate Brown, who assumed the office following the resignation of her predecessor, to take part in debates with her Republican opponent.
“When you’ve gotten to the point where a quarter of your counties are suing you [over mandates], committing to a series of appearances and debates in rural as well as urban areas is the least you can do,” reads the editorial.
Utah: The Utah Debate Commission, which formed in 2014 following years of sporadic debates in that state, has announced a busy debate schedule for gubernatorial, attorney general and U.S. Senate races, along with debates for four Congressional districts. Debates will be held at universities and colleges around the state.
Colorado: All five Republican U.S. Senate candidates took part in a debate Wednesday hosted by The Gazette and KKTV at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The debate was broadcast live and streamed on The primary is June 28.
Missouri: Republican gubernatorial candidates engaged in a debate this week that was noteworthy because of who wasn’t there: an audience. The four candidates gathered at Fox 2’s studios for a debate moderated by Fox anchors and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s political editor. The televised debate was also shown on Fox 2’s Facebook page and livestreamed on
Washington: The newly formed Washington State Debate Coalition is aiming to hold three gubernatorial debates and three U.S. Senate debates this fall. All of the major networks, along with local PBS and Spanish language stations, have agreed to cover the debates live.
Now it’s a matter of securing locations—and candidate commitments, Diane Douglas, executive director of Seattle City Club, which organized the coalition, tells the Herald. The group is also working on debate formats and is looking to involve both in-studio and TV-viewing audiences.