The Eternal Debate on Debates

From the Topeka Capital-Journal:

Ken Cannon and Andrew Gray endorse third-party candidate participation in Kansas gubernatorial debates.

It is more than philosophical. It is personal.

Gray is the Libertarian Party’s nominee for governor, while Cannon carries the banner of the Reform Party on the November ballot.

The first significant opportunity for these third-party leaders to exchange political barbs with Republican nominee U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback and Democratic nominee state Sen. Tom Holland would be the Kansas State Fair, but Cannon and Gray know their odds of taking the stage in Hutchinson are minuscule…

WIBW radio personality Kelly Lenz said candidates automatically earned face time in the Hutchinson spotlight by raising $50,000 in campaign contributions, excluding candidate loans; staffing a campaign office with a statewide reach; and snaring at least 7 percent support in a poll. These rules are flexible, he said. Hypothetically, a candidate who polled well but hadn’t raised much money or hadn’t operated with a room full of aides would be welcomed, he said.

The above story is a common situation for minor party and independent candidates throughout America: being prevented from debating. We have to recognize that there are typically two different scenarios which result in the exclusion of minor party candidates. I will take the reader through each.

Calculating Republicrats:

I do not use “Republicrat”, a common rhetorical combination of Republican and Democrat, in a derogatory manner. Instead, I use it because this phenomenom is not exclusive to either major political party.

America has a “First Past the Post” voting system for most political races. A byproduct of this is the concept of  vote splitting, “an electoral effect in which the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates reduces the chance of winning for any of the similar candidates, and increases the chance of winning for a dissimilar candidate” (as per Wikipedia).

Of course, politicians of any party must deal with this effect. The most effective way to prevent a split base is to not have any ideologically similar opposition candidates at all. Barring this, the next best thing is to silence said opposition. That is where the political calculating begins.

If a Republican fears a Constitution Party candidate may split conservative votes, then the best way to make sure the Constitution Party candidate doesn’t earn conservative support is to prevent him partaking in any public events. The same situation applies for a Democrat fearing a Green splitting liberal support.

In this situation, a major party candidate fearing vote splitting simply refuses to debate as long as the ideologically similar opposition candidate partakes in the event. The goal is to force those holding a debate or forum to bar the opposition candidate from the event. Thus, we saw Charlie Dent attempt this strategy in Pennsylvania against Jake Towne (and ultimately fail).

This strategy is risky, as Towne’s situation indicates. For starters, it may cause some negative press for the major party candidate who uses such a blatantly anti-democratic tactic. Second, it may just prevent the major party candidate’s voice being heard if the event goes on anyway, as it did in Virginia’s 5th district between Democrat Tom Perriello and Independent Green Jeff Clark.

Impossible Benchmark:
This is an example of the Kansas gubernatorial debate described earlier. Your average voter is not the only one with the perception that voting for a minor party candidate is “spoiling” a major party candidate’s chances; instead, this idea often permeates organizers of debates who are more tuned in to the political world.

Organizers of such events often seek to permit only “viable” candidates to participate. In order to do this, an arbitrary benchmark may be created that is just out of reach for a minor party or indy candidate.

For example, in the Arkansas Senate race organizers of a recent debate refused to include Independent candidate Trevor Drown and Green John Gray. the organizers declared (when pressed) that candidates without 5% support don’t normally participate in presidential contests. The threshold itself may not be as much of a problem as the ad hoc nature by which it was created, for how can a candidate plan to meet an unknown threshold by a certain time (as happened at this event)? In addition, little polling of the race has been conducted, although one poll by newcomer Zata3 had Drown at 3% and Gray at 2%. Drown, it must be noted, also polled 6% in an internal poll for the Democrat, so it appears the biases of the event’s organizers may have gotten the better of them.

Nevertheless, excessive thresholds for participation may prevent a potentially viable candidate’s message from reaching a large audience through simple logistics. Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota, is a great example of this. Originally slated to receive 10% of the vote, the wrestler eventually won with 37%. Ventura attributed his victory to the ability to debate.

Yet Ventura would not won admission to the restrictive presidential debates. Minor parties from time to time find candidates with impressive resumes for their presidential nomination. However, the electorate at large often does not hear their message because of a simple rule of the Commission on Presidential Debates: participants must reach a threshold of 15% in several polls to participate. Not even Ross Perot, who in 1992 received 19% of the vote in his presidential run, reached this threshold in ’96. In this manner Republicans and Democrats are already provided an edge within the presidential race, as they will always have a primetime televised soap box for their campaign. Those candidates who spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars on ballot access rather than campaigning  never get this subsidized opportunity to preach to the public.

This model from the CPD then spreads to down-ballot races. We already described this in the Arkansas Senate race. However, the Idaho gubernatorial race has the same issue for Independent candidate and former state legislator Jana Kemp. Potentially viable candidates like Kemp never get the chance to “pull a Ventura” if they are barred from the debate in the first place.

The Big Problem:
The above two scenarios sometimes combine to create a toxic situation. The CPD is a great example: the organzation which controls the impossible benchmarks for presidential debate access was also founded by two former Democratic and Republican Party chairmen. Similarly, other members of the CPD have significant histories in the two major parties. This skews the organization’s objectivity towards candidates, even as it decides the rules for the debates.  There is no bright line to say where one scenario ends and another begins, creating difficulty in combating debate exclusion for minor party/indy candidates.

The Solution:
If you are a minor party or indy candidate supporter, is there any way to prevent this problem of exclusion from debates?

The short answer is yes. If a candidate has the financial resources and boots-on-the-ground campaign to get popular support, then they can make a grassroots firestorm to combat exclusive thresholds and scheming Republicrats alike through the press. Not even Perot had the ability to do this in 1996, but it can work in smaller races.

So the longer answer is maybe. One potential way to cut a major source of this problem is to attack the Commission on Presidential Debates’ restrictive 15% threshold for participation, thereby limiting its use as a model in down-ballot races. However, voters have shown little concerted will to oppose this policy, so this is not a likely source of reform.

Another method would be to change the electoral system, preventing the need for Republicrat scheming. Although this has occasionally happened in individual cities and towns across America, major changes to the voting system are hard to lobby through legislatures.

Until any of the three strategies described above can be effectively utilized by activists, don’t expect the eternal debate on debates to end.

13 thoughts on “The Eternal Debate on Debates

  1. '..... just look at the activists ' [Lake]

    Bull shit, bull shit, bull shit!

    The kind words of Mr. Kelly Lenz are a red herring! Thank you for glossing over the steer manure ——— and giving ink to the heart of the matter.

    As much as the two ‘bigs’ put on a show of shadow boxing against each other, the main target of their efforts is the average citizen via independent and non Dem and non GOP campaigns.

  2. Charlie Earl

    As a statewide candidate for Secretary of State in Ohio, I face this problem frequently. I have used several techniques in order to stand on the podium with my two old party opponents. They have eluded me to date, but at some time before election day, I hope to nail their sorry careerist asses to the wall.

  3. d.eris

    Great article, Daniel.

    Adding to your solutions list, I’d also say that when third party and indy candidates ARE included in debates, it might make sense to do some grassroots follow up, maybe with people calling organizers, saying thanks, it was a great idea to have an inclusive debate, Democrats and Republicans suck, etc.

  4. Steven wilson

    If americans want choice, then let them fight for it. Why should minor parties waste time and materials to enter a rigged game.

    Accountability is paramount to the development of the voter.

  5. Green Party Conservative

    This why the Green Party needs Michael Bloombeg as the Green Party presidential candidate on the ballot in 2012.

    Bloomberg has the resources to recruit and assist a full slate of Green Party candidates 435 for U. S. House and 33 for U.S. Senate.

    The Michael Bloomberg Green Party team candidate could also recruit state legislature and local candidates to run in the same cycle.

    That would overwhelm the barriers to the Green Party, and America’s political participation.

  6. George Phillies

    There is another issue here, though it does not affect my Libertarian Party so much.

    At some point there will be a third party ‘Tea Party’ candidate for Senate President or whatnot, and she will be locked out of a debate. One of these times, the same folks who gave us wild confrontations with their Congressmen are going to show up at the debate scene in large numbers, the techniques for sending people to ‘free speech zones’ that were effective against six people are not going to do so well, and if the people manning the security situation manage things poorly, we are going to have civil disorder. That’s civil disorder that potentially turns into the sort of bloody riot this country has not seen in a long time, the sort in which both sides are armed and interested in irrational discussion with the other side, as opposed to being interested in looting local stores.

    This will be a very bad scene.

  7. '..... just look at the activists ' [Lake]

    New York Times Editorial, August 15, 2010:

    1990 to 1995, we served as public trustees for Social Security and Medicare. As a Democrat and a Republican (now an independent), we worked together on a professional and nonpartisan basis with the other trustees — the secretaries of health and human services, labor and Treasury — to ensure the integrity and credibility of the annual reports on these critically important social insurance programs.
    Related

    * One of the reforms we were proudest of during our tenure was the inclusion of a separate public trustees’ statement with the annual summary trustees’ report. We tried to make these statements as clear, concise and honest as possible. Our efforts, and those of our successors, paid off. The public trustees’ statements and summary trustees’ reports have stood the test of time. They are widely used by Congress and the news media. They are an essential source of timely and reliable information for the public.

    It is because we so value these reports — and what they stand for — that we feel compelled to express our profound disappointment with this year’s report, which for the third year in a row was assembled without the input of independent trustees. To make matters worse, the conclusions expressed in this year’s Medicare report were, to our minds, based on unreasonable assumptions that produced unrealistic and misleading results. The unwarranted optimistic report could produce a serious misunderstanding of the true financial condition of Medicare and result in significant public confusion.

    * Same with other groups, California’s CALVETS / CDVA and California’s American Independent Party ……….

  8. '..... just look at the activists ' [Lake]

    MORE KANSAS, TOPEKA EAGLE JOURNAL:

    An Indiana lawyer has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four Kansans, trying to block the filling of a current opening on the Kansas Supreme Court.

    The suit seeks to change the way the Kansas Constitution allows the appointment of justices to the state’s Supreme Court.

    Attorney James Bopp, the lead counsel on the case, also worked on a case which this year resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning controls on campaign financing for corporations.

    The suit seeks a federal restraining order to prevent a nominating commission from filling the vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court left by the recent retirement and death of Chief Justice Robert Davis.

    Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/08/26/2178482/lawsuit-seeks-to-change-how-kansas.html#ixzz0xlaLCCUJ

  9. '..... just look at the activists ' [Lake]

    PER 230.ORG:

    90% of voting age Americans do not know the name of the U.S. House rep. from their own local district. The United States was designed to be a constitutional representative republic, however widespread lack of participation has created a viscous cycle of dysfunctional government leading to further rejection of government by the people. This is only made worse by those in the media who refuse to treat this as a serious crisis, instead referring to all people as “voters”, even in districts were only 10%-20% of the people actually vote in most elections.

    The United States ranks last among industrialized nations in terms of participation by the people.

    [Jack Semple?]

  10. Best We Can Do? [Lake]

    ARABS,, LOVE ‘EM OR HATE ‘EM
    THEY ARE A FACTOR IN GLOBAL RELATIONS

    ONLY THE ARABS AND THE MAYA HAD THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT OF ‘ZERO’

    FOR EXAMPLE, CHRIST WAS NOT BORN IN THE ROMAN YEAR ZERO, NO ONE WAS!

    [British English]

    The S Word: The policy and politics of science
    The renaissance of Arabic science
    11:14 29 October 2010
    Economy
    Funding
    Research

    Roger Highfield, editor, New Scientist magazine

    From the empire of Islam came the astrolabe, algebra and the collective wisdom of the likes of Ptolemy and Aristotle, ideas that would pave the way to the Renaissance and shape the modern world.

    This golden age of Arabic science faltered centuries ago but what is notable is the magnitude of the current efforts to rekindle the flame of this influential scientific tradition.

    In Saudi Arabia, a £20 billion endowment aims to turn the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology into a powerhouse to rival the California Institute of Technology within just two decades.

    A few days ago, the UAE’s efforts to foster innovation were made clear at World High Tech Forum in London, organised by the British Institute of Technology and E-commerce.

  11. Best We Can Do? [Lake]

    GIVE ME A BREAK

    There has been no tolerable prez since flawed characters Truman and Ike.

    All these bozos were anti citizen, anti patriotic, and even treasonous in their own way.

    Who’s the Most Popular Modern President? —— John Hudson – Mon Dec 6, 6:07 pm ET

    WASHINGTON, DC – According to a new Gallup survey, President John F. Kennedy remains the highest-rated president in modern history. President Ronald Reagan came in second with a 74% approval rating while Richard Nixon remained last with 29%.

    The survey, published Monday, asked Americans “whether they approve or disapprove of how each [president] handled his job in office.” Here are four takeaways from the new poll:

    * In Many Ways, It’s About How You Leave Office, writes James Joyner at Outside the Beltway:

    John Kennedy has become radically more popular in death than he ever was as president. But he’s a special case: a handsome, charismatic fellow who was martyred in office.

    On the flip side, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were both essentially forced from office. …

    Ronald Reagan was well liked, if polarizing. He took a brief hit after the Iran-Contra scandal but had rebounded nicely by the time he left office.

    * With Time, Presidents Become More Popular, observes Alison Harding at CNN, looking at the poll: “Reagan, Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush have all earned higher retrospective job approval ratings than the ratings they earned at the end of their presidencies.

    Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton’s ratings have remained about the same as they were at the end of their respective terms.”

    * Bush Appears to Be Vindicated, writes James Hohmann at Politico: “Bush’s 47 percent approval rating also raises serious questions .” The “rebound,” he continues, also “gives some credence to what he has long said–that history will eventually judge his presidency.”

    * Here’s the Big Surprise: Carter and Clinton “The most noticeable change in this year’s survey is the rise of Bill Clinton and fall of Jimmy Carter,” says Bruce Drake at Politics Daily:

    Carter had left office with a dismal 34 percent approval rating in a Gallup poll after his one term………..

    Clinton’s rebound to 66 percent in 2001 despite the cloud over his presidency from the 1998 Monica Lewinsky affair. Clinton ended his term on a high approval note,

  12. Opeach Obama [Lake]

    FOR YOUR INFORMATION, NOT NECESSARILY A RECOMENDATION:

    Draft Gravel Now Live!
    Jeremy Young | December 16, 2010 at 12:59 AM | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/ppl47-1L

    After suggesting that Mike Gravel is the candidate we need, I decided to do something about it. Introducing the all-new Draft Gravel page.

    Don’t quite know what I’m going to do with this yet — we’ll see what happens. It’s not the first time I’ve run a draft campaign website, but it’s the first time the candidate’s actually seemed interested.

    Add a comment to this post [Interested? Of late?]

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