Something needs to change with political debate

Nick Freitas, left, and Corey Stewart participate in a U.S. Senate candidate debate at the Virginia Tea Party annual convention in Richmond Va., on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

As we once again approach election season, it will not be too much longer before we see debates between candidates for governor, senate and other government positions. I won’t lie, I’ve always enjoyed watching these debates. In fact, for my birthday a couple of years back, I had all of my friends watch one of the Republican primary debates with me (thanks again guys). But recently I’ve come to the conclusion that debates, especially the presidential ones, are deeply flawed.

One thing I hate about debates is how pundits react to them. They’re always talking about who had the better posture and who spoke more clearly, not who had the better answer to the damn questions being asked. I know anchors are supposed to try and stay more or less neutral on the political issues but at the very least bring on someone who can support each side and have them go more into depth on which solution/proposition is better. I don’t really care which candidate had more zingers.

The biggest problem is that there is simply not adequate time to provide sufficient answers to the questions addressed. Most debates candidates get maybe two minutes to answer a direct question, and even less for a rebuttal. Most important policy questions, (i.e. anything that’s not a yes or no question like should we allow gay marriage or is climate change real) are extremely nuanced. And that means that a candidate’s response cannot be properly explained in what little time they have, which is detrimental to a viewer who may not be familiar with the topic.

Take the Iran Nuclear Deal, for example. There’s a lot of specific context that is relevant to the issue, for example the fact that the sanctions relaxed as part of the deal were put into place specifically to get Iran to the negotiating table, and that the large money payment the U.S. gave to them was Iran’s own assets that had been frozen. Plus a complete understanding of the deal takes knowledge on the specific provisions, what they did to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and which political elements in Iran itself supported or opposed the bill.

There is not enough time in a two-minute segment to explain all of this. What will happen is that one candidate will say we gave Iran all this stuff in exchange for very little, the other will say that we successfully curbed Iran’s nuclear program, and the truth of the matter will be between those two but closer to the latter person. Maybe if they had 10 minutes apiece a decent discussion could be had, but we would have to drastically alter the format of debates, and have a better focus on which topics are in which debates (we can’t suffer all the repetition we see now if the segments are going to be longer).

There is also an argument to be made that debates are widely antiquated. We always hear of great historical debates like Lincoln-Douglas, but the importance of events like this were based on the fact that there was not widespread information available on the positions of politicians (and if there was many couldn’t read). Historically speaking, listening to debates, or at least those who had attended them, was one of the few ways to make an informed choice when voting.

You know what we have right now? The Internet. And more specifically, we have websites where the candidates, in their own words, can explain their policy positions on every single important issue in depth and make claims that we can easily check for ourselves with a simple search. Instead of spending an hour and a half watching two candidates debate, just figure out which issues are most important to you and see what each candidate has to say about them. You’ll be a lot more informed that way, and your head won’t be spinning from trying to make out which claims you hear are true and false.

Debates aren’t a total waste of time. It’s probably good to see how each candidate can perform under pressure in regard to their poise and policy knowledge. But if we want a better informed electorate, than either we have to drastically change how we run these things or people need to commit to brushing up on nuanced political topics. If you have time to watch a debate, you have time to read a few paragraphs regarding how each candidate stands on an issue. Do that and be a better voter for it.


Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.