The “dire consequences” of debate criteria that are “too high”


It seems the 2016 Presidential election cycle will never end, however it’s only a couple of months away and the general election debates are fast approaching. The general election Presidential debates involving the Republican and Democratic Party candidates are hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, who invite all candidates averaging 15% in 5 hand-selected polls. Since this 15% requirement was added in 2000, no candidate outside of the ruling duopoly has been invited onto the debate stage. In fact, the only time a candidate outside the duopoly was on the debate stage with their two major party counterparts was in 1992 when Ross Perot was allowed to debate George H.W. Bush & Bill Clinton.

A recent lawsuit from the Libertarian & Green Party Presidential nominees alleging violations of anti-trust laws was dismissed, meaning that Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or any other Presidential contender needs to meet the 15% polling requirement in order to get invited to the CPD hosted debates.

One of the arguments in favor of the 15% threshold is that a debate would bee to unwieldy if everyone running were invited. This argument falls apart when looked at rationally. First off, the other criteria require a candidate to be constitutionally eligible, sorry Deez Nuts, and “[a]ppear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College.” When Gary Johnson says there will be “dire consequences” for his campaign if he’s not invited into the CPD debates, most people will write it off as some form of sour grapes over not being invited. However, when Bernie Sanders says he believes the CPD requirement is “too high” and thinks the vote threshold “should be lower” people may start to realize there is a problem with the Presidential debates.

If the 15% requirement were removed, this election would see two more candidates (Johnson & Stein) invited to the main debates. Secondly, a debate with 4, 5 or even 6 candidates is not unwieldy, nor uncommon. During the primary season, including the months leading up to the Iowa Caucus, the GOP held 12 debates (not including candidate forums not sanctioned by the RNC) all of which included at least 4 of the 17 declared GOP Presidential candidates; 8 of the debates included 7 or more candidates, and three debates had at least 10 candidates on stage.

If the purpose of the debates are to actually inform the voting public about the candidates, the only legitimate debate would include all ballot-listed candidates. Or was Nancy Neuman correct 28 years ago when she said the CPD takeover of the debates was “a fraud [perpetrated] on the American voter”?

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