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The Commission on Presidential Debates considers changing debate format

Photo by Yin Bogu

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) released a statement following the first presidential debate of the 2020 election, stating that the CPD will adjust the format of future debates to avoid interruptions from both parties. 

The first presidential debate of the 2020 election was held on Sept. 29 and received a lot of backlash from the media and the public. President Donald Trump and Democratic Nominee Joe Biden interrupted each other several times, which resulted in both parties talking over each other throughout the debate. 

The CPD came out with the following statement regarding future presidential debates: 

“The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly. The Commission is grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”

Currently, both candidates are granted two minutes to respond to the moderator’s questions before transitioning to an open floor for both candidates to debate. 

However, according to The New York Times, several changes are underway for the upcoming debates. One of which is to create new limits on speaking times and alter the open discussion format to avoid interruptions. 

Another consideration is to allow the moderator to shut off microphones when a candidate is speaking out of turn. However, making such changes during a live debate can be problematic for production and sound teams.

The CPD is also considering penalizing candidates who do not follow debate guidelines by yielding time to their opponent, according to The New York Times. 

Associate Professor and University Director of Forensics for Boise State’s Talkin’ Broncos Manda Hicks does not believe the presidential debate was a good representation of appropriate behavior and debate etiquette. 

“I’m pretty sure that everyone on planet Earth could see that that was not a professional or respectable moment and not something that we are necessarily going to identify as ‘debate,’” Hicks said. 

[Photos of the 2016 Presidential Debate Stage]
Photo by Yin Bogu | Tribune News Service

Hicks believes that often presidential debates do not represent the true form of debating. Rather, candidates use the national stage to create soundbytes and communicate their identity and ideology to viewers. 

“If anyone believes that debate is about talking over your opponent as much as possible in order to win, then they don’t have a realistic idea of what debate should be and what it can do,” Hicks said. “The purpose of debate is to represent a perspective with fidelity. To present information that clashes with one’s opponent so that the audience or the critic or the judge can weigh both perspectives. The activity of debate is to, really at its best, interrogate assumptions and find new solutions that come from multiple perspectives being represented.”

Boise State’s debate team, Talkin’ Broncos, has professional discussions during formal debates, according to Hicks. The team does not interrupt opponents, and directly answers questions respectfully. 

While the first presidential debate of the 2020 election may have seemed discouraging, Hicks encourages students to participate in healthy conversations and debates. 

“Students should be encouraged to skew the approaches they saw in that presidential debate. Instead, turn that energy to productive, healthy, invitational debate with their peers, on campus, and their outside lives,” Hicks said. “I strongly encourage [students] to recognize the toxic and completely unproductive practices that we saw in that debate and to not invest in them. Instead, take their interests and their perspectives and their understanding of the world to a place that is more respectful and recognizes the productive transformative value of healthy discourse debate.”

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