Is the Debate Format the Best Way for Candidates to Express Their Ideas?

The first general presidential candidate debate featured on television was held in 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It was featured on radios and televisions. Millions of people tuned in to hear their potential candidate for President. Since then, television has been a vital part in determining a leading candidate. On September 12, in Houston, Texas, the third 2020 Democratic presidential debate took place. The number of people qualified was fewer than in the previous two debates, in July and August respectively. The exact number for this third debate was ten candidates. Yet last month’s debate posed a big question. Does the debate format actually work for this large a number of candidates? By viewing video clips from five different presidential candidate debates, both the final (democrat versus republican) debate and the nomination debates, I would agree that the debate format works for 5 people or less, but, in my opinion, there need to be adjustments for such a large group as the one presented this year.

When you have such a large group of debate participants, there should be stricter rules in place for answering questions. According to ABC News, here are the rules that the candidates had to follow: “… each candidate will have one minute and 15 seconds to directly respond to questions from moderators, and 45 seconds for follow-ups. Candidates will give opening statements, but no closing statements.” While watching the third presidential debate, I noticed that the answers the candidates gave offered real solutions, yet their explanations were not simple. Some might have needed more time to explain their answers. Many disputes between candidates came up due to the short amount of time allotted for each person to answer. Some disputes made the candidate look bad, while other disputes actually showed the candidate in a positive light. 

Another issue with this debate format when there are so many candidates is that it seems that not everyone is asked a fair amount of questions. The main stars of the debate (Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren) were asked the majority of questions. Others like Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang weren’t asked many at all. This does not give all candidates an equal opportunity to explain their platforms.

In addition, with so many candidates in the debate, the debates run for a very long time. For example, the third 2020 presidential candidate debate lasted 2.5 hours, from 8:30 pm to 11:00 pm. There was no commercial break for the first 1.5 hours. As a viewer, I became distracted from the actual content of the debate, as I was more focused on the time. I noticed that the candidates, themselves, also appeared restless. To remedy this I would advise ABC News to include more commercial breaks.

Some possible solutions to the debate format could be making sure that every candidate gets a similar amount of questions. In addition, stricter rules on interrupting other candidates and blocking intentional disputes would allow the public a clearer understanding of where the candidates stand on the issues.

As a U.S. citizen, watching this last debate, I became disheartened. I wonder if there will be a strong Democratic candidate nominated to run for President in the 2020 election.