Round-Up: Debates Scheduled in Taiwan, Civic Engagement in Spain and UK

Taiwan kicks off 28-day presidential campaign, plus a look at the debates leading up to Spain's surprising election and new research on the 2015 debates in the UK.


Taiwan’s three presidential candidates have agreed to take part in two televised debates before the Jan. 16 election.

One of the debates will feature questions from the media, and the other will include questions from representatives of civic groups, Alex Huang, director of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Department of News and Information, told the Taipei Times.

Candidates will also answer questions from the public submitted via “President, may I ask a question?”, an online platform launched by Google, the newspaper Apple Daily, and Watchout, which works to engage citizens and hold politicians accountable.

-1All three are among the nine debate sponsors. Other media sponsors include the Central News Agency (CNA), Sanlih E-Televison (SET-TV), Public Television Service, and three other major dailies—the United Daily News, the China Times, and the Liberty Times.

As we noted last week in the Rethinking Debates newsletter (have you signed up?), Taiwan’s political parties agreed to three debates following contentious negotiations over the format and hosts. The presidential debates have since been finalized for Dec. 27 and Jan. 2. The vice-presidential candidates will meet first, on Dec. 26.

The presidential and vice-presidential campaigns received the official greenlight to start, well, campaigning just this past Saturday.

Besides being amazed by the 28-day campaign limit (what would we do with all the free time?), we’ll be watching to see which questions are answered when voters use the ever-so-polite “President, may I ask a question?”

A Winning Performance

Spain is confronting a new political reality after Sunday’s election broke the country’s two-party dominance and left the selection of prime minister in question.

Seven debates were organized in the run-up to the election, with some of them embracing social media and innovative formats. A youth-focused forum in November, for example, was billed as the “first digital debate on Twitter,” with real-time questioning and commentary. Sponsored by Twitter and the European Youth Forum, representatives from six political parties took part:

Later debates featuring opposition party leaders were broadcast on YouTube and on the website of the country’s largest daily newspaper, El Pais.

Incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy agreed to only one debate, a sit-down with Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez. Held on Dec. 14, it was the campaign’s final debate, and it did not go well for Rajoy.

The Podemos party, which was founded in 2014, made stunning gains in the election, but it would not have come as a huge surprise to those who were closely following the debates. Even though he was not invited to the final debate, Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos party leader and founder, won the El Pais debate, according to a poll sponsored by the newspaper.

Televised Debates Play a Civic Role

So how much do televised debates matter? In the UK, quite a lot, according to new study.

University of Leeds study on UK debatesUniversity of Leeds researchers concluded that the 2015 general election debates “performed a crucially important civic role,” both by reaching younger and first-time voters and by helping citizens acquire information needed to make meaningful choices. The authors are calling on party leaders to commit to debates in 2020.

Researchers first organized a series of focus groups to ask voters and non-voters about the 2010 televised debates and what they hoped to gain from future debates. They came up with five demands or “entitlements” people said they needed from political debates to be democratic citizens:

  • They wanted to be addressed as if they were rational and independent decision-makers.
  • They wanted to be able to evaluate the claims made by debaters in order to make an informed voting decision.
  • They wanted to feel that they were in some way involved in the debate and spoken to by the debaters.
  • They wanted to be recognised by the leaders who claimed to speak for (represent) them.
  • They wanted to be able to make a difference to what happens in the political world.

The researchers then set out to determine how voters evaluated the 2015 debates in terms of meeting their needs. They noted that more than 30 percent of viewers of the first debate—a full debate between all seven leaders of the main parties—said they became “more interested in the election campaign.”

And of those who said after the election that their vote was influenced by a media source, almost half (48 percent) referred to the televised debates as being among the most helpful—the highest percentage for any source of election information.

“We found that many voters feel they have a right to see the party leaders debate on television,” said Stephen Coleman, a political communication professor and leader of the research team. “Debates should become part of the fabric of major political events.”

View the full report: “The 2015 Televised Election Debates: Democracy on Demand?

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