Partisan Commission on Presidential Debates Harms Process

Commission on Presidentia Debates
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Every four years presidential debates are held in the United States, which are no doubt one of the most important and influential aspects of a presidential electoral campaign. Candidate debate performance heavily influences vote results.

Third party candidates have been included in two debate cycles since 1960. All remaining debates have included only two candidates, one Democrat and one Republican.

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That fact seems odd when you think about how many other big party candidates such as Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Party members also run for the position of President of the United States. For the 2012 race, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson is one of three people who will appear on all 50 state ballots, and has polled as high as 19% against Obama. This Wikipedia entry shows that there are at least 15 total candidates running in the upcoming election. Why are none of them invited to the debates? Don’t we, the people, have a right to choose who we want at our presidential debates and to be free of excessive bipartisan control?

Third parties are excluded from debates because the Commission on Presidential Debates, run by Democrats and Republicans, and their established rules for debate inclusion, are the deciding factor for who receives invitation to the debates.

Walter Cronkite spoke on the issue during his time:

The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud that our political campaigns have become. Here is a means to present to the American people a rational exposition of the major issues that face the nation, and the alternate approaches to their solution. Yet the candidates participate only with the guarantee of a format that defies meaningful discourse. They should be charged with sabotaging the electoral process.

This brings us to the Commission on Presidential Debates, or CPD, founded in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties. The CPD is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation as defined by United States federal tax laws and hosts debates which are sponsored by private contributions from foundations and corporations.

The CPD website has listed their mission statement as:

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000,2004 and 2008.

"The Commission was then taken over by the Democrats and Republicans."
Clearly stating that the CPD was established to ensure that the best possible information is provided to viewers and listeners, I think it’s fair to say that they have miserably failed at their mission. Providing the best possible information to viewers would obviously mean inviting more than a single Republican and Democrat candidate to debates.

Regardless of political party affiliation, most people can agree that having more choice is never a bad thing.

Before the CPD was in control, the non-partisan organization The League of Women Voters moderated the 1976, 1980, 1984 debates. They withdrew from the position of debate moderator after the 1988 debates, releasing a press statement after their withdraw which read, “the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.”‘

They further their stance by saying:

It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.

The Commission was then taken over by the Democrats and Republicans to form the current version of the CPD.

Not only are our presidential debates strictly controlled and limited by Democrats and Republicans scared of losing their power to a third party, . Who are these corporations and foundations and what interest do they have in the United States Presidential debates?

The CPD has issued a set of eligibility criterion which third party candidates must complete before they are  invited to the debates.

The most concerning rule states:

The CPD’s third criterion requires that the candidate have a level of support of at least 15% of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.

The problem with this is that most people tune into the televised national debates to decide which candidate they will vote for. Since the CPD has such stringent rules on debate inclusion, people are left with no choice but to hear the opinions of only two candidates, instead of the five or more that are running for office. It gets even more interesting when you learn that most of the national public opinion polling organizations refuse to include third parties in their polls.

How do candidates have a chance at reaching 15%  in five national polls if they are rarely, if ever, included in the polls?

The Gallup polling agency, one of the largest, remains willfully disingenuous regarding the situation. They included third parties in one poll, and came to the conclusion that the “vast majority of Americans prefer Mitt Romney or Obama.” Americans are not adequately exposed to third party candidates and their respective issues, because polling agencies such as Gallup, along with mainstream news agencies, fail to include third party candidates in discussion.

Gallup also refuses to update their 2012 Election web page to include any third party candidate.

Rasmussen, another large national polling agency, has openly acknowledged that they will continue to exclude Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson from their polls, explaining, “experience has shown us that asking about “Some Other Candidate” provides a more accurate view of the race than including third party candidates. Our current polling finds that about 4% to 6% of voters say that they will vote for someone other than Obama or Romney. When we ask them a follow-up question, less than half say they will stick with that third party choice…..Therefore, we have concluded that the most accurate measure of the Obama-Romney race is to leave Johnson’s name out of the mix.”

CNN has been the target of Twitter bombs, real life protests outside of their headquarters, and thousands of phone calls and messages demanding that they include Gary Johnson in their polls and discussions. The leading objective news agency still hasn’t updated their 2012 candidate tracking page to include Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, in the race, and refuses to offer any coverage to third party candidates.

What exactly is going on here? We have the Democrats and Republicans controlling which third party candidates are invited to the debates and controlling debate topics, which are the most important event of the political race, and we are O.K. with this? Why are we complacent when our leading news agencies fail and nearly refuse to include all serious presidential candidates?

It doesn’t seem rational to believe that Democrats and Republicans who are controlling the CPD would be thrilled on the idea of having multiple other presidential candidates debating against them for the job of President of the United States. Two parties are perfect for them — no matter who wins, they all win. Freedom of choice is severely limited at a time when America needs something truly different.  We need access to real choice. Real candidates. We need to take charge and implement a fair system of governing presidential debates. It’s time to get rid of the old system, the CPD, and establish a fair and balanced presidential debate commission run by the people, not the politicians.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. Ian Dawes I got a chance to view the 1984 Reagan v Mondale debates on C-span a couple weeks back, Barbara Walters was an amazing moderator. The demeanor and professionalism of both candidates far surpasses what today's candidates bring to the floor.
  2. Michael Higham The internet is going to help overcome the commission's duopoly on presidential debates. But still, televised debates attract so much attention and viewers get a limited scope to all the ideas that third party candidates are offering.
  3. Terri Harel Excellent! This monopolization on the airwaves is completely unfair to voters. No wonder we are stuck in a perpetual bipartisan system. I'm glad IVN and some other news sources like NPR are trying to change the conversation by inviting third party candidates into the conversation. Looking forward to the debate on IVN tonight.
  4. Emma Goda We need to bring back the league of womens voters for the debate.
  5. judy wolff I would like to see all legitimate, eligible candidates have the opportunity to be part of the debates. The unfortunate truth is that the election goes to through the electoral college,I've felt since I started voting in 1979 that the popular vote should have had more pull. This all frustrates me.
  6. Suzi S The commission needs to stop abusing their power and usurping the voice of the American people. Gary Johnson is a viable candidate for the office of President, with his name on 50 ballots. It is not up to the commission to decide how many people this country is interested in hearing from. It is an abuse to We the People and the democratic process! It is not up to you to decide. It is not up to you to decide. Put all viable candidates in the debate. We demand no less!
  7. James R. Herman Thank goodness for the internet. Now you can find out about other candidates as well as the regular two on the internet. These other candidates are on the ballot so we still have the right to vote for them. There's also a website out there called isidewith that asks your opinion on the issues and then informs you what candidate also supports your position. Turns out I side with Jill Stein 73%, both Ron Paul and Gary Johnson at 69%, Mitt Romney at 55% and Barack Obama at 54%. So ligically I should vote for Jill Stein. But I'll probably vote for Gary Johnson even though he (nor any other candidate) will support an end to exclusionary zoning. After the mortgage crisis, all of the foreclusures, the fact that 33% of Americans are not homeowners and one still can't place a home of one's own choosing on a residential lot is really sad. I went from paying $3,720/yr in lot rent to a mobile home park to paying $662/yr in property taxes once I was allowed to place my singlewide mobile home on a residential lot outside of the mobile home park. This should be legal everywhere. If you can afford to buy a residential lot then you should be free to place a home of your own choosing on that lot. This does not mean you can't still zone an area as commercial and another area as agricultural. If the housing market was free then you could buy a home as easily and cheaply as you buy a car. You are free to buy any car you want and drive it on any road you want. No one takes out a 30-yr mortgage to buy a car.
  8. Mike A big online player needs to step forward and host a debate that isn't subject to News agencies and 2 main political parties
  9. Maria Rosario Viva Walter Cronkite!!
  10. Lisa Blair Unfortunately, I must say that I agree with Mike on this issue. Perhaps the issue is not completely with the media. I feel that if we expect our views to be represented within the National playing field then there are some things that are up to us: First we all need to register as Libertarians and seriously campaign for your chosen candidate. Presidential candidates are only as strong as their constituents will have them be. The percentage number required for inclusion in the debates is a reasonable number. It can be obtained if each and every one of us does out part to make that happen. We must spread the word and we must instill the true purpose of Libertarian values in our friends and family members. I can honestly say that that I have been a straight line Democrat since I started voting at age 18. It was not until I actually had a friend mention the Libertarian party in a Facebook post that I sat down and read exactly what they represent. I am now a member of this party and I will be for the rest of my life!! Lets not let the momentum die after Nov 6th. If we keep going and campaigning strongly for the next four years, then we can be there. We also need to encourage Gary johnson to run again is 2016!! It is critical and I feel it will be even more so by then.
34 comments
Ian Dawes
Ian Dawes

I got a chance to view the 1984 Reagan v Mondale debates on C-span a couple weeks back, Barbara Walters was an amazing moderator. The demeanor and professionalism of both candidates far surpasses what today's candidates bring to the floor.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

The internet is going to help overcome the commission's duopoly on presidential debates. But still, televised debates attract so much attention and viewers get a limited scope to all the ideas that third party candidates are offering.

Terri Harel
Terri Harel

Excellent! This monopolization on the airwaves is completely unfair to voters. No wonder we are stuck in a perpetual bipartisan system. I'm glad IVN and some other news sources like NPR are trying to change the conversation by inviting third party candidates into the conversation. Looking forward to the debate on IVN tonight.

Emma Goda
Emma Goda

We need to bring back the league of womens voters for the debate.

judy wolff
judy wolff

I would like to see all legitimate, eligible candidates have the opportunity to be part of the debates. The unfortunate truth is that the election goes to through the electoral college,I've felt since I started voting in 1979 that the popular vote should have had more pull. This all frustrates me.

Suzi S
Suzi S

The commission needs to stop abusing their power and usurping the voice of the American people. Gary Johnson is a viable candidate for the office of President, with his name on 50 ballots. It is not up to the commission to decide how many people this country is interested in hearing from. It is an abuse to We the People and the democratic process! It is not up to you to decide. It is not up to you to decide. Put all viable candidates in the debate. We demand no less!

James R. Herman
James R. Herman

Thank goodness for the internet. Now you can find out about other candidates as well as the regular two on the internet. These other candidates are on the ballot so we still have the right to vote for them. There's also a website out there called isidewith that asks your opinion on the issues and then informs you what candidate also supports your position. Turns out I side with Jill Stein 73%, both Ron Paul and Gary Johnson at 69%, Mitt Romney at 55% and Barack Obama at 54%. So ligically I should vote for Jill Stein. But I'll probably vote for Gary Johnson even though he (nor any other candidate) will support an end to exclusionary zoning. After the mortgage crisis, all of the foreclusures, the fact that 33% of Americans are not homeowners and one still can't place a home of one's own choosing on a residential lot is really sad. I went from paying $3,720/yr in lot rent to a mobile home park to paying $662/yr in property taxes once I was allowed to place my singlewide mobile home on a residential lot outside of the mobile home park. This should be legal everywhere. If you can afford to buy a residential lot then you should be free to place a home of your own choosing on that lot. This does not mean you can't still zone an area as commercial and another area as agricultural. If the housing market was free then you could buy a home as easily and cheaply as you buy a car. You are free to buy any car you want and drive it on any road you want. No one takes out a 30-yr mortgage to buy a car.

Mike
Mike

A big online player needs to step forward and host a debate that isn't subject to News agencies and 2 main political parties

Sandra Tyra
Sandra Tyra

First, what is the CPD? But, on the surface, I'd say that I agree.

Rose Habib
Rose Habib

@Mike, but alas, democracy IS messy.

Bernie Valentine
Bernie Valentine

Let all qualified voices make their pitch....let all have EQUAL access to all media sources....then let voters decide on an impartial basis without media & pundit influences....simultaneous elections in all states for any federal position!

Mike Morrato
Mike Morrato

It does harm the process but it also maintains order. It kills me to say that being that I'm an ardent Gary Johnson supporter and support Jill Stein's right to speak. In their case, I know Gary is on at least 49/50 ballots with the Michigan drama being the only thing preventing him from being on the ballot in all 50 states. He's also polling in the 6-7% range as of this week. So no, he won't win (lack of name recognition and media blackout aren't helping him at all) but that's not an insignificant number if it actually relates to votes come November.

But at the same time, you also have people like Jimmy McMillian, whom I found hilarious and he's a likeable guy if not a bit of a wackadoodle, but that's the point. If you open up the debates, you'll get 6-12 people up there like the early GOP debates and the voters don't get to hear what should be finer tuned messages (hahaha!!! right, I know. :( )

Jackie Freeman
Jackie Freeman

Give it back to the League of Women Voters and include candidates strictly on obtaining sufficient ballot access.

Leo Zicc
Leo Zicc

agree. one with all the candidates

Free Debate Militia
Free Debate Militia

If they refuse to let Gary Johnson (and Jill Stein as well) into the debates, they will be initiating force against the American people by keeping them from hearing from non-establishment candidates. If they do this, we need to form a militia and respond with force.

Linda Ballard
Linda Ballard

Say, how about getting rid of the electorial college .. limiting candidates to poll results based on polls likely backed by big money is preventing qualified candidates from being heard. >: (

Don Berryann
Don Berryann

I have received several polling calls from these designated polling organizations. Their questions are phrased "do you expect to vote for 1) Barack Obama; 2) Mitt Romney; 3) Undecided" There is no way to indicate a preference for any other candidate so the 15% polling criteria completes the collusion between the ruling parties, the CPD and the polling organizations.

Viola
Viola

From what I hear CNN is in charge of the debates. Need to boycott CNN in every way possible, make their ratings drop. Make them listen to the fact that we want Gary Johnson at the debates.

Chad Peace
Chad Peace

I remember when it was the league of women's voters in charge of the debates. What happened to that?

Lisa Blair
Lisa Blair

Unfortunately, I must say that I agree with Mike on this issue. Perhaps the issue is not completely with the media. I feel that if we expect our views to be represented within the National playing field then there are some things that are up to us: First we all need to register as Libertarians and seriously campaign for your chosen candidate. Presidential candidates are only as strong as their constituents will have them be. The percentage number required for inclusion in the debates is a reasonable number. It can be obtained if each and every one of us does out part to make that happen. We must spread the word and we must instill the true purpose of Libertarian values in our friends and family members. I can honestly say that that I have been a straight line Democrat since I started voting at age 18. It was not until I actually had a friend mention the Libertarian party in a Facebook post that I sat down and read exactly what they represent. I am now a member of this party and I will be for the rest of my life!! Lets not let the momentum die after Nov 6th. If we keep going and campaigning strongly for the next four years, then we can be there. We also need to encourage Gary johnson to run again is 2016!! It is critical and I feel it will be even more so by then.