Who should be included in political debates?

One of the hardest decisions for news organizations which sponsor candidate debates is setting a bar for how a candidate qualifies to be included. It’s one of the reasons a lot of news organizations don’t bother sponsoring debates, anymore; it’s a no-win situation.

The most common suggestion is “invite them all.” It’s good for entertainment value. Candidates with no chance of winning often are more inclined to give straight answers than those who are under the control of the political experts. But the more candidates who are involved in a debate, the fewer opportunities there are for detailed answers.

That’s why some news organizations adopt a more controversial standard: A candidate has to have a chance of winning.

“People in charge of the debates have no business pre-judging election outcomes when they decide who to let in on a debate,” Ralph Nader says.

WBUR, Boston’s most popular public radio station, is addressing the issue today on its blog. A minor candidate wants in on gubernatorial debates in Massachusetts.

“Because Jill Stein will get one quarter of the time and camera and she has not a million-to-one chance to become governor. For her to be given a seat at the table is unfair to the voters, who will then have to wade through the clutter of a fourth candidate in the race,” WBUR’s political analyst says.

A commenter on the blog makes a fine point. “Third and fourth parties may not end up winning, but they often see their ideas co-opted by the eventual winner.”

  • http://www.skyseastone.net/jvstin/ Paul
  • Noelle

    “Because Jill Stein will get one quarter of the time and camera and she has not a million-to-one chance to become governor. For her to be given a seat at the table is unfair to the voters, who will then have to wade through the clutter of a fourth candidate in the race.”

    Ugh. I think voters would benefit from additional candidates and ideas. I’ve long thought the two major party system we have in place is too polarizing. Besides, other countries can handle mutliple political parties and candidates, and I would like to think we could do the same, given the chance. Norway, for one, has seven major parties, in varying degrees of conservatism and liberalism:

    http://www.stortinget.no/en/In-English/Members-of-the-Storting/

    It should be noted that even the most conservative parties in Norway are still fairly liberal by American standards.

  • vjacobsen

    Who should be included? Anyone who is on the upcoming ballot. PERIOD. It is not up to the media to preemptively decide that someone has no chance, it’s up to the voters, and voters need to see ALL choices to make an informed decision. To do anything less would mean that the sponsors of the debates are influencing voters’ decisions.

    Those little candidates can have a BIG impact in many different ways, if anyone gives them the chance.

  • Bob Collins

    I’m glad I’m not organizing the debates for the 10th Judicial District (Stillwater). There are 24 candidates for one judge opening.

  • MR

    I remember that before the DFL nomination in the 5th CD, when Keith Ellison eventually won his seat, there were something like 14 candidates. They all showed up on Almanac, and Almanac used a “getting to know you game,” where the moderator would read a statement, and if the candidate agreed, they would step forward. It was somewhat informative, but mostly pointed out the absurdity of trying to differentiate among 14 candidates.

  • Bismuth

    “Because Jill Stein will get one quarter of the time and camera and she has not a million-to-one chance to become governor.”

    A self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Personally, I’d love to see other-party candidates gain a larger role in our government. Though participating in this debate might not lead to a Green-Rainbow win in this election, or the next, or the next, the publicity they’d receive could lead to relevancy in the future.

    I agree with vjacobsen that any candidate who puts in the effort to get their name on the ballot should be invited to participate in debates.

  • matt

    “It’s one of the reasons a lot of news organizations don’t bother sponsoring debates, anymore; it’s a no-win situation.”

    Really? You expect us to believe that the news media would rather leave the issues undiscussed (at least in debate fashion) because of this Gordian Knot? I cannot belive that most news organizations vascilate so wildly between editorial discretion and inclusiveness…or we would not have news coverage period.

  • John P

    I fall into the “If the name is on the ballot” camp.

    It might make debates longer. TV and radio staions should make the extra time available. They are more than happy to take the political ad money until we’ve all seen enough of them to make us barf. It makes me dizzy to think we have so many weeks of this left

    i am tired of references to “Our two-party system” by the Dems. and Repubs. I see no such system called out in the Consittution. It exists because the two major parties have consolidated their stranglehold on power. Meanwhile, the electorate is losing interest, convinced both parties lie, twist the truth, pick the facts that fit their view, doing or saying anything to be elected. Opening up debates would be a good first step to letting more voices be heard.

  • Bob Collins

    //They are more than happy to take the political ad money until we’ve all seen enough of them to make us barf

    By way of background, TV/radio stations don’t have a choice about accepting political ad money. They’re required to by law. Not only that, they’re required to provide the ad time at the lowest possible rate.

    The pols did a good job of taking care of themselves when they made that piece of telecommunications law.

  • Bob Collins

    //You expect us to believe that the news media would rather leave the issues undiscussed

    Read what I wrote, again. The perceived problem is the more candidates are invited, the less the issues are discussed. Their rationale is that the debate can be more detailed if it’s only down to the few.

  • Noelle

    Thanks John – I see your point, and totally agree that opening up debates to candidates in the smaller parties would be a great first step, and would hopefully show voters that there ARE other options besides Republican or Democrat.

  • Matt

    Bob,

    And if you read what I wrote again you see that it is very possible for news organizations to limit the number of candidates based on editorial discretion. You, MPR, NPR, Fox and everyone else who works as a gatekeeper exclude news based on time/space available. To now state that news organizations are unable to do that for debate purposes is either inconsistent with what news organizations do everyday or, I suspect, a hypothesis that you floated out there with little substantiation…more editorial discretion.