The chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, recently announced that there would be only six debates during the primary election process. This is an obscenely low number of debates and does nothing to help the candidates, the average voter or the Democratic Party itself.
Debates are an important part of the presidential election process. They allow candidates to roll out their platforms and present them in a widely viewed forum. They allow all candidates, big or small, to share their voices. Perhaps most important, debates allow voters to make informed decisions. As voters, we have the right to access information that will allow us to vote for the candidate who best meets our needs and beliefs. Debates give us that information in a succinct, comparative format.
Debates are just as important for the Democratic Party. The role of the presidential primaries is to provide the best candidate possible for the party. Without a strong debate schedule, voters have less exposure to the candidates and issues. This makes it much more difficult for them to make informed, connected decisions in finding a candidate that best suits the Democratic Party and, ultimately, this country.
The Republican Party has this figured out. It will have had three presidential debates before the Democratic Party has one. This means that the average voter will have had exposure to the three Republican debates before they even get the chance to see a Democratic debate.
Oddly enough, the Democratic Party had this figured out eight years ago. In the 2008 election cycle, the DNC hosted six debates, but allowed various organizations like CNN, ABC and NPR to host their own, for a total of 26 debates. In 2007, the DNC hosted three debates before Oct. 13, the date of the first scheduled debate this year. This increased exposure for candidates was certainly an important factor in underdog Barack Obama’s victory. This time around, the DNC instituted an exclusivity clause that bans Democratic candidates from taking part in any debate not sanctioned by the committee.
Why the sudden change in debate philosophy? There has been no answer given by the DNC. Wasserman Schultz claims that there are enough debates to provide an ample opportunity for voters to hear from the Democratic candidates. This is simply not true.
The first Democratic debate will take place four days after voter registration closes for primary elections in New York. This means that an entire state of voters won’t even get to see a debate before deciding if there is a Democratic candidate worth supporting.
Another striking change from 2008 is the polling threshold. Candidates must gather at least 1 percent in three national polls at least six weeks before the upcoming debate, or they will not be allowed to participate. This will drastically reduce the field of candidates, but more important, the number of issues and viewpoints that are being discussed.
The most dangerous part of this new debate philosophy is that the Democratic Party could very easily lose votes and momentum as a direct result of these changes. A growing number of voters are becoming disillusioned with the political process, as seen by the rise in support for nontraditional candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Face time, in cases like this, can directly correlate to votes. Currently, the Republican Party has a monopoly on face time, and it is speaking unopposed to every single voter in the U.S. If this continues, the Republican Party will see an immense positive return in the form of votes.
Wasserman Schultz has not yet changed her mind on the debate schedule, despite a protest at the Iowa State Fair last week. If you believe debates benefit the party and the voters, you are in luck. Wasserman Schultz and other DNC members will be meeting to discuss party business Thursday through Saturday at the Hilton Minneapolis (tinyurl.com/DNC-debate). If you, like me, feel that these decisions do not reflect positive change, please stop by and let them know how you feel. If nothing changes, this dangerous debate schedule could cost the Democratic Party votes and, ultimately, the election.
James Hron, of Crystal, is a teacher.