Presidential Debates Kick Off Tomorrow

by Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

The 2012 Presidential Debates kick off tomorrow night, and Portlanders have numerous options for hearing the candidates’ statements — including one that expands coverage to include candidates that were shut out of the official debates.

The series of debates starts tomorrow night at 9 PM Eastern time, 6 PM Pacific. Debating on the theme of “Domestic Policy,” President Obama and Mitt Romney’s debate will be moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS’s NewsHour and live-broadcast over C-SPAN, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, as well as all cable news channels including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC among others. Future presidential debates (also occuring at 9 PM Eastern, 6 PM Pacific) will take place on October 16 and 22; Vice-Presidential candidates will debate on October 11.

However, not all of the presidential candidates will be represented in the debates; the Commission on Presidential Debates has opted not to include several candidates who have qualified for federal matching funds and will appear on enough national ballots to potentially win the White House, including the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and the Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson. Petitions have already been circulating, including one by the Libertarian Party which has garnered over 28,000 signatures, to include these candidates in the debates; direct protests of the debates are also planned by groups such as Occupy the CPD. One media outlet has even opted to include several of the candidates in an innovative live broadcast, as Democracy Now! explains:

As President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney square off in the first presidential debate in Denver on October 3, Democracy Now! will broadcast live from Denver with a special expanded presidential debate from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. ET. We will air the debate, pausing after questions to include equal time responses from two presidential contenders who were shut out of the official debate: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

For those who opt not to listen to the expanded debate and prefer to observe the standard broadcast debate in a group setting, numerous locations across the city will be presenting the debates. One fabulously queer option for observing the first debate is presented at the Q Center (4115 N. Mississippi Avenue, Portland) from 6:00 to 7:30 PM; the Q Center presents the event in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign and Basic Rights Oregon.

Another great venue for viewing is Living Room Theater (341 SW Tenth Avenue, Portland):

On October 3rd, you are invited to join us to watch the first 2012 Presidential Debate LIVE on the big screen in HD. The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by the moderator and announced several weeks before the debate. The debate will run from 6:00pm to approximately 7:30pm PDT.

There is no charge to attend, but you must RSVP in advance so that we can confirm your seat. If you would like to attend, please send your name along with the names of your guest(s) to Come experience the debate in a group setting at Living Room Theaters!

Additional seating in the cafe will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

While some voters view the debates as an important means by which they discern which candidate will earn their vote, many political scientists question whether the debates are actually a waste of time. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Gallup, as just one example, reviewed a half-century of its polling results and found only a few examples of presidential debates that made any impact on election outcomes. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post further articulates why some political scientists question the importance of the debates:

the effects on debates on eventual votes are likely mild, and, in most cases, effectively nil. Moreover, what effects do exist are often caused by factors wholly beyond the candidates’ control, like media coverage, attractiveness, and whether voters are watching a Nats game in the other panel of their TV.

However, Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor asserts that this election could be one in which the debates have a huge impact:

“What history can tell us is that presidential debates, while part of how the game is played, are rarely what decide the game itself,” writes Mr. Sides in an article on debate effects in the Washington Monthly.

But “rarely” isn’t the same as “never.” And it’s possible that 2012 could be an outlier in this historical data set.

First of all, the election is close. It’s close enough so that one stray gaffe might send just enough voters fleeing to the other guy. And the media environment surrounding the debate is different as well. The Twitter-fueled political news cycle is faster and more ferocious than ever, meaning that any perceived victor or loser could find their gain or loss exaggerated by the sheer volume of media hype.

What do you think, readers? Are the debates an important part of our electoral traditions, or a means by which we turn politics into theater? Should the Commission on Presidential Debates include third-party candidates in the debates? Know of any other good locations for listening to or watching the debates tomorrow night? Tell us in the comments!