Round Up: Debates Proposed, Delayed, and, in the Philippines, Carried Out on Twitter

Plus: How to get into a BBC debate audience, a "Donald Trump moment" in Saskatchewan, forum on U.S. presidential debates, and more.

George Washington University forum on presidential debates

Journalist and professor Steven Roberts (far right) moderated a discussion on presidential debates at George Washington University on March 22 with Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Mike McCurry and Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., co-chairs of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Photo: William Atkins / The George Washington University



New in the Rethinking Debates series: Smile, You’re On Nico Nico Douga! Japan was late to using the internet to engage voters during elections, but the country’s first livestreamed debate involved the public in an unprecedented way.

This Week in Debates

Scotland: The leaders of Scotland’s six largest political parties meet today in the first of two debates hosted by BBC Scotland. The debate will take place in front of an audience of voters at BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay headquarters. The election is scheduled for May 5. 

Guidelines require the BBC to have a balanced audience. An application with questions about voting history and political party membership is available online.

The Philippines: Organizers of the March 20 presidential debate in the Philippines promised fewer commercials and tougher questions than the first debate, and it appears they somewhat succeeded.
The three-hour debate at University of the Philippines-Cebu started 90 minutes late, however, due to disagreement over whether the candidates could bring notes on stage. Many on social media, wanting to know the reason for the delay, tweeted #PiliPinasDeLate and #PiliPinasDeLate2016, a riff on the popular #PiliPinasDebates2016.

One of the candidates, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, couldn’t attend in person due to health reasons. As questions were posed to the other four candidates, her campaign staff posted tweets about Santiago’s position on the issues, reported the Her views on divorce (she is the only candidate who supports it, under very restrictive conditions), received the most reaction: 3,617 likes and 3,163 retweets.

The debates, the first in the Philippines since 1992, have become huge media events. The next and final presidential debate is April 20, and the election is May 9. 

Zoran Milanovic

Zoran Milanovic

Croatia: Zoran Milanović, former prime minister of Croatia and president of the Social Democratic Party, is hoping for a televised debate with SDP Vice President Zlatko Komadina, who is challenging Milanović for the leadership position.

The SDP has received hosting offers from six TV stations and one newspaper. Komadina wants to debate in front of party members.

“Elections in the largest opposition party are an issue of the utmost interest to the public, and TV debates between the candidates are the highest expression of democratic political culture,” Milanović wrote on Facebook. “We are a strong party that really should be an example of openness, transparency and clarity in expressing views and exchanging opinions.”

Canada: A televised debate between Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall and New Democratic Party Leader Cam Broten Wednesday night in advance of the Saskatchewan general election on April 4 produced a “Donald Trump moment,” reports CBC News.

“You haven’t said how you’re going to pay for these [promises],” Wall said. “This is the Donald Trump section of your platform. Who’s going to pay for this? Mexico?”
“I’ve never been compared to Donald Trump. That’s a first,” said Broten.

Other U.S. comparisons were drawn in advance of the debate, with a call for more party inclusion. Though there have been no third-party candidates in U.S. primary debates this election cycle, political columnist Murray Mandryk notes that more than a dozen presidential hopefuls got to take part, while the Saskatchewan leaders’ debate involved only two. 

About Those U.S. Debates …

Engaging More Voters, Not More Candidates: During a forum at George Washington University on Tuesday (which GW livestreamed on Facebook), Mike McCurry, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said the Commission is tested every four years on including third-party candidates and has concluded that the candidates on stage in the fall should be those the public is expecting to see and is seriously considering.

The threshold for participation is reaching 15 percent in leading polls. If third parties can’t get 15 percent, they may need to find better candidates, said McCurry. 

He also noted that the Commission is committed to curating questions from the public via social media for the town hall debate format. Referencing the work of the Commission in off-election years assisting other countries in developing their own political debates, McCurry said people in other democracies are “astounded average citizens get to stand up and question who gets to lead the country.” 

Figuring out how to preserve that aspect of the debates, while making it an “authentic representation” of what people think, is on the Commission’s agenda.

The forum, which included McCurry’s co-chair, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., and ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz (a veteran of two primary debates and one VP debate), featured lots of discussion about debate formats, questions and this year’s candidates. Read more at GW Today
Cross-Over Viewing: Nielsen has launched an Election Central full of political and media data, including volume of tweets during debates and presidential candidates’ book sales.

Nielsen report on reach of Republican and Democratic primary debatesreport by Nielsen on the first six debates for both Democrats and Republicans concluded the debates reached “97 million Americans, with about equal numbers watching the Democratic debates (68 million) as those that watched the Republican debates (67 million).”

The analysis also found that “about 30.2 million viewers watched only the Democratic debates while roughly 29.2 million viewers only viewed the Republican debates. Additionally, 37.8 million viewers watched both debates.” 

Host With the Most: The majority of those debates have been watched on CNN. “We are the cable network that doesn’t choose sides,” Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, tells the Washington Post. That perspective and a big financial investment in Election 2016 have helped CNN dominate the primaries.

Hot Fact: Of the 1,477 questions asked during the past 20 presidential primary debates, 22 questions (1.5 percent), have been about climate change, according to Media Matter’s Primary Debate Scorecard. Republican frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have not fielded any questions on the subject.


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