Round-Up: Crowdsourcing Debate Questions in Taiwan

Plus: U.S. presidential debates popular in China, study on second screens and political engagement, and could televised debates in the UK become a thing?


taiwan elections ask president platform

Between Christmas and Jan. 2, Taiwan held its first and only vice-presidential debate and two presidential debates in advance of the Jan. 16 election. The first presidential debate was pretty standard: Candidates answered questions from the news media and then took part in three rounds of direct debates with one another.

The second presidential debate, however, included something new: five questions from the public.-1

The questions, all policy-related, were submitted via the online platform President, May I Ask a Question and voted on by the public. The platform was first used during Taiwan’s vice-presidential debate; here are the six public questions selected for that forum. 

Watchout spokesman Lin Zu-yi told Taiwan’s press last month that Watchout would select questions by lottery, drawing only from those questions that received at least 1,000 online signatures. We’ll have more on President, May I Ask a Question—developed by Google, the newspaper Apple Daily, and Watchout—in a future article.

Plus: Remember Mitt Romney’s comment regarding “binders full of women” during a 2012 presidential debate and the memes that followed? KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu’s comment during the first debate about being encouraged to run by an unnamed elder woman sparked a similar flurry of responses, including the Facebook parody page Tamsui Grandma. Another site, Taiwan Fugue, is offering stickers for those worried about being held responsible for Chu’s campaign.

tamsui grandma facebook parody page

The Tamsui Grandma parody page on Facebook has more than 37,000 likes.

Catherine Chou, a PhD candidate at Stanford University, has a fascinating analysis of the responses, looking at how language interweaves with humor. “That Chu would use Taiwanese when telling a humanizing story about an elderly lady is predictable; what is less so is that netizens and new political parties—overwhelmingly composed of the young—would respond in the same language,” writes Chou.

In other debate news …

How to Avoid Campaign Fatigue: Not every country is as speedy as Taiwan when it comes to presidential campaigns, but the United States is more like a marathon—or two. Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press looks at how other countries manage to keep their campaigns shorter by putting limits on time, spending and/or by offering public financing. Is the U.S. system, which gives more time to candidates to make their case through primaries and debates, more democratic, or simply more adept at supporting all the third-party donors, businesses, journalists, and consultants who benefit from long campaigns?

U.S. Debates Popular in China: The Guojiang Subtitle Group in China, a group of about 70 volunteers who produce subtitles for American TV shows, are translating the U.S. presidential debates. The videos, which are uploaded to a Weibo account and onto Chinese video-sharing sites, have become quite a hit in China, reports Owe Guo in The New York Times. The group was started by Zhou Qianyu, a Beijing high school student, in 2014.

chinese translation republican debate

Chinese translation of Republican debate hosted by CNN and Facebook.

“Watching the U.S. presidential debates is like watching a football match,” said Yin Hao, one of the translators. “You see a lot of moves and tactics by the candidates, but eventually it all comes down to who scores.” You can watch the debates on Sina Video. Read the Times story for examples of comments by Chinese viewers.

From Parliament to Television: Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a live, televised annual “state of the nation” debate among party leaders. Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told The Independent they would take part if Prime Minister David Cameron is willing.

That seems unlikely. “Downing Street has said it will ‘look at the formal details of any proposal’, which is throat-clearing in advance of saying no,” writes political columnist Rafael Behr, who takes a broader look at debate participation and the shortcomings of prime minister’s questions. The call for an annual debate comes on the heels of a report by University of Leeds researchers showing that the 2015 general election debates increased viewers’ engagement.

Second Screen Study: A study published in the Journal of Communication found that people who use social media to discuss televised debates are more likely to become engaged in politics as a result. The study, “Dual Screening the Political: Media Events, Social Media, and Citizen Engagement,” focuses on Twitter use during the 2014 European Parliament elections in the United Kingdom.

“Twitter users who more actively participated in the discussion about the debates on social media using hashtags like #NickvNigel, #CleggFarage and #europedebate came away more energized and engaged with politics,” the authors of the study wrote in the Washington Post. New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab helped the study’s authors identify social media users who tweeted about the debates.

Get Those Second (and Third) Screens Ready: YouTube and NBC News are teaming up for the final Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa Caucus. The NBC News-YouTube Democratic Candidates Debate, hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, will take place Sunday, Jan. 17, in Charleston, S.C., with the action streamed live on the NBC News YouTube channel. The announcement notes that the debate will feature questions from the YouTube community, but we haven’t seen information yet on what that might involve. Check Civicist for post-debate coverage.

Before Democrats take the stage, FOX Business Network will host a Republican presidential primary debate on Thursday, Jan. 14, also in South Carolina. Happy New Year, and happy debate watching! Sign up for the twice-monthly Rethinking Debates newsletter for the latest posts and news.