Why regular people ask better questions than news-anchor moderators.
It did not take moderator Elaine Quijano long to lose control of Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate. It began right off the bat, really, when she asked Sen. Tim Kaine, “What about your qualities, your skills, and your temperament equip you to step into that role at a moment’s notice?” and he responded with a memorized opening speech. Not long after Mike Pence began answering questions, Kaine was annoyingly interrupting him, and Pence, whenever he got a free minute to speak, was whistling past Donald Trump’s 16 months of embarrassing and offensive comments.
Controlling a situation in which debaters are determined to just yammer out their oppo for 90 minutes is never easy—especially in a country where the news media has a worse net approval ratingthan even Trump. Ignoring some slick moderator’s diktats, if not outright insulting the moderator, is a means of proving oneself in touch with the electorate. Yet in doing so, they give the electorate a crappy, disorderly argument about nothing. What’s the best way to get out of this quandary and to have a comprehensible discussion that allows the country to press forward with some shred of dignity?
You can’t just get rid of the moderators entirely. A pure state of nature is still worse than playground restlessness. What you can do is just allow the moderator to serve as a direct pass-through for the questions of ordinary people, whose concerns the candidates will be less eager to blow off.
Having average people do the asking alleviates the problem of candidates hearing the questions and then just saying whatever they want. They will have to address the person’s question or look like a jerk in front of 50 million-plus viewers. Having average people ask the questions also allows those people to relate personal stories about problems that they’re facing.
The news anchors who moderate and select the questions are cossetted from the country’s economic problems. They are rich people. If news anchors were to tap into the problems they’re facing in today’s fierce economy, we would hear about shiftless Park Avenue doormen and the like. So when they try to channel the economic concerns of average people, we get questions, like, I don’t know …
Quijano: Sen. Kaine, on the issue of Social Security, in 18 years, when the Social Security trust funds run out of money, you’ll be 76. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates your benefits could be cut by as much as $7,500 per year. What would your administration do to prevent this cut?
The framing here is that of a deficit scold—Social Security’s not going to be around anymore! Boogity boogity boo!—that implies the program is doomed. It directly cites a Pete Peterson operation! It is the sort of question one asks when one wants to appear savvy about politics. It’s right out of the Serious Adult Beltway Debate starter kit.
Now let’s consider [a] hypothetical Social Security question that a moderator might ask: “Do you support expanding, and not cutting, Social Security’s modest benefits?”
This is not my question. It is the question submitted by Ellen P. from North Carolina, who submitted it at the Presidential Open Questions forum. This site, put forth by the bipartisan Open Debate Coalition, allows people to submit their own questions, have them voted on, and vote on others; they’ll be submitted to debate moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper, who have said they’ll consider using them on Sunday. As of 11 a.m. Friday, Ellen P.’s question was the third most popular on the site out of 12,226 submissions, with more than 35,000 votes since it was submitted on Sept. 28. If you look at the related popular questions that were “merged” into this, most ask about restoring cost-of-living increases and lifting the cap on Federal Insurance Contributions Act. They take as a given, in ways that network moderators’ questions typically don’t, the notion that maintaining and perhaps enhancing Social Security is necessary in this precarious economy. “I have paid into Social Security for over 40 years and my son has paid in for 25 years and will continue to pay,” Susie C. from Texas asks in a related question that’s garnered more than 27,560 votes. “How are you going to keep our money safe for all people that have contributed?”
It’s personal narratives like that that turn something like Social Security from an accounting issue to a moral question that’s harder to dodge—or harder, still, to convert into a cheap, unrelated #slam on your opponent. Consider the No. 1 question on the forum. “Would you support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales?” Richard M. from California asks. “My son was murdered by someone who should have never had a gun. Gaps in our current system make it easy for felons & other dangerous people to buy guns online & at gun shows, no questions asked.”
I have a hard time seeing Hillary Clinton convert that one into one of her awfulzingers against Trump or Trump leaping from that into a line about how Bill Clinton did sex things with Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky.
The first two debates have gone off the rails because they reflect the spectacle of what politicos call “the process”: isolated, detached, surreal, overproduced, overcaffeinated, and hollow. The town hall, done right, allows voters to grab this bizarre process from the parallel plane on which it’s been conducted and return it for a moment to something like reality.
After such a ridiculously long political campaign — it's been 18 months since HillaryClinton declared her candidacy and 16 months since Donald Trump did the same — Sunday night's presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis might test a prospective voter's patience. After all, how many times can the same well-trod ground of tax returns, email practices, immigration policy, ISIS, income inequality and temperament be covered?
Fortunately, viewers are getting a reprieve of sorts. This will be a town hall format with questions asked not by journalists (given harsh criticism of their performances in debates so far, they probably need a day off anyway) but by members of the audience. It an additional twist, average Americans have gotten in on the act as well, voting in advance for questions that may be asked of the candidates. (Vote early and often at PresidentialOpenQuestions.com.)
No doubt there will be all kinds of subtext in the debate. Did Mr. Trump do his homework? Are Bill Clinton's peccadilloes fair game? Given her lead in the polls, will Ms. Clinton fall back to a prevent-defense? But this might also be the best chance to judge the candidates as human beings and find out whether they can truly appreciate the concerns of average folks instead of just using them as the means to re-raise familiar talking points.
Ordinary Americans will be able to submit—and vote on—questions to be considered when the candidates meet again.
Viewers unhappy with the questions asked at Monday night’s debate will have a shot to weigh in before Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet again on October 9: For the first time, the networks producing the town-hall style debate have agreed to accept questions voted on through the internet.
The Commission on Presidential Debates had already announced that the second of three debates would feature questions submitted online in addition to those asked by the traditional studio audience. But on Tuesday morning, the debate moderators confirmed they are embracing a format that a broad bipartisan cross-section of activist and civic groups known as the Open Debate Coalition have been pushing for years. Americans will be able to submit and then vote on questions online at PresidentialOpenQuestions.com, and ABC and CNN have agreed to consider the 30 most popular queries when they jointly plan the debate.
“This year’s presidential debate moderators will have a rich pool of voter-submitted questions they can draw on that carry greater weight because they are backed by votes from the American people,” Mike McCurry, a co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said in a statement accompanying the announcement by the Open Debate Coalition.
As has become tradition, the second debate will resemble a town hall meeting, with the candidates free to sit or roam the stage instead of standing behind podiums. Members of the audience -- uncommitted voters, screened by the Gallup Organization -- will ask half the questions. The rest will be posed by moderators Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Anderson Cooper of CNN. They’ve agreed to consider questions submitted to a website and voted on by the public. As of Thursday morning, the proposed questions with the most votes involve criminal background checks for all gun sales and expanding Social Security benefits.
The second-grade daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants first made international headlines last September when she slipped through a police line to give the pope a handwritten letter. She has since become one of the youngest voices in the immigration reform movement, and even got to meet with President Obama in the White House.
Now she’s got a question for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And it could be one of those moments that defines the campaign. Cruz’s question is short and personal: What happens to me if you deport my parents?
Cruz posted her question on PresidentialOpenQuestions.com, a website that allows users to propose questions and vote on which they’d like to see put to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump next Sunday.
The 30 questions with the most votes will be submitted to ABC and CNN for consideration. ABC and CNN have told the Open Debate Coalition that the moderators would be asking any questions chosen from PresidentialOpenQuestions.com.
Everyone has the chance to submit and vote on questions that could be used in Sunday night's presidential debate.
And the top of the leaderboard has some fairly intriguing suggestions for ABC's Martha Raddatz and CNN's Anderson Cooper.
The Open Debate Coalition has a website set up where people can create an account and begin submitting questions or upvoting ones already posted to the site.
As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 1.8 million votes were cast. In a conference call late last week, those involved with the submission said ABC and CNN agreed to consider the 30 questions with the most votes.
"We are confident that after millions of votes are cast, ABC and CNN will see fit to ask questions from PresidentialOpenQuestions.com because these are the types of questions voters want answered," said Lilia Tamm Dixon, the Open Debate Coalition director.
The site, she said, got an influx of traffic after being linked to by the popular conservative news aggregator The Drudge Report, in addition to attention received after articles written in The Atlantic and other publications.
Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, added that the format attracts "real questions from real people."
Candidates in a Florida Senate race test out a new format that could be adopted for the presidential match-ups this fall.
The format is an experiment developed by the Open Debate Coalition, a bipartisan group that has pushed to make debates both more accessible and more democratic—with a small d—by giving viewers more of a say in what topics the candidates address.
The goal was to make bottom-up, user-generated questions the centerpiece of a debate, rather than as a small element of a traditional event in which the journalist moderators decide which Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube question they like the best.
“One thing we’re very resistant to is any form of tokenism,” Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Institute. “We would rather have no bottom-up component than a fake bottom-up component that sullies the idea of regular people participating.”
For 75 minutes, Grayson and Jolly addressed several weighty policy disputes—money in politics, Wall Street reform, the minimum wage, climate change, the solvency of Social Security—and often in detail. There were no process or campaign questions, no bragging over polls, no obvious efforts by the moderators to get the candidates to attack each other.
One of the possibilities the commission is watching is the “open debate format” proposed by the bipartisan Open Debate Coalition, in which the questions are crowdsourced. Everyday voters submit questions in advance, with the moderators choosing from the 30 questions with the greatest number of votes. The format is to be tested Monday night in a debate between Republican Rep. David Jolly and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, who are vying for a Senate seat from Florida. The debate is to be moderated by Cenk Uygur, host and CEO of The Young Turks, and Benny Johnson, creative director of the Independent Journal Review.
“The explosion of sites on the Internet that are nontraditional sources, the move beyond traditional mainstream media is a very significant development. And so many people, particularly younger people, are getting information from nontraditional new sources. We certainly want to invite them into the process,” McCurry said.
If you have ever wanted to ask a question at a political debate, the Open Debate Coalition may be paving the way for you.
The group has organized a debate next week between two U.S. Senate candidate in Florida who will answer questions proposed and selected by an online community. The candidates, Republican Rep. David Jolly and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson are running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Marco Rubio. Rep. Patrick Murphy, another Democratic candidate in the race, declined an invitation, organizers said.
The principle, as declared by the Open Debate Coalition members in a joint statement, is that "the public should be empowered to conceive and select debate questions – so that questions addressed by candidates represent the will of the people."
The Open Debate Coalition is hoping their "bottom-up Open Debate" format can become a model for other political debates, including presidential contests. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and part of the Open Debate Coalition, said "I am very glad the candidates agreed to use this innovative format and will answer questions that are submitted and voted on by the public. Hopefully, numerous Open Debates happen this 2016 cycle — including in the race for president."
Normally, the press frames important US election debates by choosing the questions and controlling the video broadcast. For the first time, however, the public will decide the agenda in a clash over a contested US Senate seat. Republican David Jolly and Democrat Alan Grayson are vying for Marco Rubio's vacated Florida Senate post, and will lock horns on April 25th at 7PM eastern time in the Florida Open Debate. The public will be able to submit questions for the event, hosted by the Open Debate Coalition, starting today at 6AM until the cut-off at 12PM ET on April 25th.
While the contested seat is in Florida, anyone can submit and vote on questions. Only Florida ballots will count, but "others can cast votes to impact which questions are trending or most seen on the site -- influencing which questions Florida voters see and vote on most," according to the Open Debate Coalition. The top 30 questions will make the cut, and a group of moderators will decide which of those to ask candidates.
Moderators include The Young Turks, a top YouTube news channel, and the Independent Journal Review, a Vine channel with nearly 40 million monthly visitors.
A key part of the debate is the open video feed, which allows "any website or TV station [to] broadcast the debate live or re-broadcast later without worrying about copyright." The coalition hopes the feed will open the debate up to a lot more viewers, especially cord-cutters that would never watch such an event on, say, Fox or MSNBC.
Online users will be able to submit questions, and vote questions up or down. The top 30 vote-getting questions will get asked. Only votes from Florida users will count when selecting the final questions.
Debate moderators include The Young Turks (of YouTube fame) and Independent Journal Review (of Vine fame). Anyone with a website or TV station will be able to broadcast the debate, live or as a rerun, without worrying about copyright infringement, as part of the debate's "open video feed."
"This debate represents a new high-water mark when it comes to debates that represent the will of the people," Lilia Tamm, the coalition's program director, said in a statement. "Bottom-up Open Debates unite people across the political spectrum because they are not about right versus left, but new versus old. With modern technology, we can utilize the wisdom of crowds at FloridaOpenDebate.com and bypass silly questions, gotcha questions, and questions about the news of the week -- and focus on issues voters care about most."
U.S. Senate candidates Alan Grayson and David Jolly will face off Monday night in an unusual "open debate" in which the public can submit questions and vote on what questions they want asked.
U.S. Reps. Grayson, D-Orlando, and Jolly, R-Indian Shores, more than six weeks ago agreed to debate each other, declaring themselves (without convincing evidence) the clear frontrunners for their respective party's senate nominations. Then a bi-partisan group called the Open Debate Coalition stepped up to host the debate, which will include an open video feed, allowing any website or TV station to broadcast it live or re-broadcast it later without worrying about copyright.
Anyone across the country can submit and vote on questions, but only Florida votes will be counted when selecting questions. Others can cast votes to impact which questions are trending or most seen on the site, influencing which questions Florida voters see and vote on most.
Said Jolly: “The people decide elections. The people deserve a larger role in which questions get selected and asked.”
Grayson said "the Open Debate Coalition model helps ensure we actually respond to the will of the people – and not just answer to the whims and wishes of the Establishment and special interest agendas.”
The April 25 event will be between Democrat Alan Grayson and Republican David Jolly, both of whom are in heated fights for their party’s nomination.
The event his being hosted by the Open Debate Coalition, which is holding what organizers are calling a first-of-its-kind attempt to bring political debates “fully into the internet age.”
“This debate represents a new high-water mark when it comes to debates that represent the will of the people,” said Lilia Tamm, the coalition’s program director.
The format will include submitted questions. Of those, the moderators will have to select the 30 that receive the most support. Questions can be submitted and voted on at FloridaOpenDebate.com from 6 a.m. Tuesday to 12 p.m. April 25.
Jolly and Grayson will debate for Florida’s U.S. Senate race Monday in a format to be broadcast on the internet. The very existence of the debate, which Grayson and Jolly announced with no details March 1, is controversial because it features just one Republican of five major candidates and just one Democrat of at least two major candidates. And it has them facing off four months before anyone has a chance to become their parties’ nominees in the Aug. 30 U.S. Senate primaries.