Round Up: Bye #DemDebate, Hello Town Halls, Engaging Voters & More

The way we watch and interact with political debates is shifting, from the U.S. to the Philippines; plus: how many millions can a presidential debate be worth?


#PiliPinas Debates: Claire Jiao of CNN Philippines takes readers behind the scenes of the April 10 vice presidential debate at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, capturing unguarded moments with the six candidates.

“It is easy to forget, amid the theater of a nationally televised debate, that these candidates are just people, in the middle of a political circus,” writes Jiao.

As with the previous presidential debates, this debate featured more than 100 television ads, according to Rappler, though the ads took up a relatively smaller share—about 20 percent of the three-hour broadcast. Commercial breaks became a point of contention after ads dominated 48 minutes of the first two-hour presidential debate. 

The final presidential debate, scheduled for April 24 at the University of Pangasinan, will be a town hall format, with questions for the candidates fielded from the audience. The election takes place May 9.

Rappler is also organizing a series of senatorial debates under the heading #TheLeaderIWant, with questions crowdsourced from the audience, and capturing online sentiment during the debates via a “mood meter.” Users can indicate whether they’re annoyed, angry, afraid, amused, inspired, sad, or happy—or if they just “don’t care.”

Northern Ireland: Representatives of Northern Ireland’s five main political parties on Wednesday took part in the first televised debate of this year’s Assembly election. The BBC will host a second leader’s debate on May 3, just two days before the May 5 election.

The BBC this week also announced  coverage plans across multiple platforms. On April 20, first-time voters will be invited to pose questions directly to politicians during a live studio event, Election 2016: The Good Friday Agreement Generation. Reached 18 years ago, the agreement brought an end to 30 years of sectarian conflict.

U.S. News

Bye #DemDebate: Last night’s debate between Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was likely the last primary debate of Election 2016. It was loud and exhaustingfor candidates as well as viewers.

Town Hall is the New Debate: Abigail Abrams of International Business Times takes a closer look at the town hall format, which in recent weeks mostly took the place of multi-candidate debates. There have been more than 30 town halls this election cycle across the major cable networks as well as niche media outlets, compared to just a few in 2012.

“It used to be that voters could tune in to a debate one night and have a pretty good sense of where a candidate stood on the issues,” said Jennifer Konfrst, head of the strategic political communication department at Drake University in Iowa. “Now they have to moderate between these events. It’s a more involved and invested process on behalf of voters.”

And they’re not necessarily getting more out of it. 

“A Pew Research study released in February found that 91 percent of U.S. adults surveyed had learned something new about the 2016 presidential election in the previous week. Konfrst pointed to this study, saying the frequent town halls and the social media conversation around them has made the campaign almost unavoidable. But this doesn’t necessarily mean people are well-informed,” writes Abrams. 

“It’s much more a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of voter engagement,” said Konfrst.

NYT live chat 4.14.16Old Media is the New Media: New York Times political correspondent Nicholas Confessore explains how he and two other reporters have narrated the presidential primary debates in real time, creating instant live-chats for readers to use as a “second screen” as they watch the debate.

“As the experiment progressed,” writes Confessore, “we discovered that readers didn’t want just a second screen; a large number were ‘watching’ the debate by reading our chat. So our roles evolved. To put it in sports terms, Maggie [Haberman] and I provide most of the color commentary, while Alan [Rappeport] describes the plays (what the candidates or moderators are saying and doing). That way people who don’t have a TV will know what Maggie and I are talking about.”

Citizens Ignored: Public Citizen has published a report on how little has been said about campaign finance reform during the presidential primary debates.

According to the report, only 15 of more than 1,000 questions or statements by moderators so far have addressed the U.S. campaign finance system. The term “super PACs” has been used in only two questions posed by moderators. “Citizens United” has been invoked only once. (These numbers were published prior to last night’s Democratic debate.)

“There’s a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that’s front and center for most Americans as never before,” Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, told NPR. “They’re unwilling to press the candidates on solutions.”

wright state university debateThe Business of Debates: The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce is expecting the first presidential debate, scheduled for Sept. 26 at Wright State University, to bring in $25 to $35 million to the region, reports Tristan Navera at the Dayton Business Journal.

Wright State has received 3,300 requests for media credentials so far, said its president, David Hopkins. The school expects 200 million debate viewers. “This could well be the most watched presidential debate in the history of debates,” Hopkins said.

State Debates: From Baltimore to San Diego, debates are being held for mayoral candidates and other local positions, as well as for district and statewide races. Yet participation is still no guarantee, especially when one candidate is better known and has more to risk.

Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has proposed five debates with Republican Sen. Rob Portman in the Ohio U.S. Senate race. Portman campaign spokeswoman Michawn Rich said the proposal “comes as a welcome surprise,” as Strickland had previously refused to take part in any debates with his primary challenger. Strickland won the Democratic primary handily in March.

In Utah, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert finally engaged in a public debate this week with his primary challenger, Jonathan Johnson, chairman of Johnson opened the debate opened with this quip: “I would like to thank the Utah Foundation of Republican Women for hosting this. Apparently, you’re the one group in Utah that nobody can say no to.” Republicans will choose their nominee on April 23.


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