5 November 2015

Lee Drutman

We are now four debates into the 2016 presidential campaign, and the emerging consensus is that the format stinks. Yes, there may be some entertaining moments, but nobody seems happy with the status quo.

Now that the Republican candidates are reevaluating how the debates should operate, I humbly propose four alternatives to the weird and generally hostile group interview process so in vogue right now:

1. Crisis simulations

2. Oxford-style issue debates

3. Candidates submit the questions

4. Inter-league play


Oxford-style issue debates

If it’s debates we want, it’s debates we should have. But what we have now are not actual debates.

For example, we could apply the Intelligence Squared [U.S.] Oxford-style debate format. Split up candidates into teams of two, depending on where they come down on various issues. Then let them debate an issue that divides them: “Resolved: We should voucherize Medicare”; Resolved: “We should have a 10 percent flat tax”; Resolved: “We should engage more aggressively in Syria.”

Let the candidates actually debate an issue over the course of 30 to 45 minutes, getting into enough depth to meaningfully help voters actually understand it. Such a format would also clarify who actually understands the issues and who does not.

The Intelligence Squared [U.S.] format is nice because while it is moderated, it also allows debaters to ask some questions of one another. And it has a simple format for declaring a winner. The audience is pre-polled. The side that wins is the side that moves the audience in one direction or the other.

A network could make this into a weekly program for the next several months, cycling through the different candidates in various pairings.

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