Got Any Ideas for Improving Presidential Debates?

Over at MarginalRevolution, Tyler Cowen has posted a few suggestions, and is soliciting more. One of Cowen’s ideas:

Allow all candidates to watch a short debate of experts — with a fraud or two thrown in — and ask them to evaluate what they just heard and why they reached the conclusion they did.

He also suggests they should conduct an orchestra, to see whether the candidate “defers to the players, and to what extent he prefers ‘panache.'”

I think this is a very worthy thought exercise. I also think that the chance of these suggestions actually being implemented are approximately 0.01%.


I like suggestion #3, but isn't that how it already works?!?

Here's my suggestion. Give them a hypothetical scandal and ask them who they would blame it on.


Does everything in life now have to be made into immunity challenges a la Survivor? Can we have confessional booths for the candidates too?


I really don't think the problem is the candidates, per se. Americans seem to prefer likability to knowledge, home-spun verbiage to book smarts, and folksy countenance to professional looks.

Forget a candidate that has prepared all his life for the job. Go with the fellow that likes baseball and you'd like to have a beer with.

It ain't the candidates. It's us. We get what we filter for.


Lure them to a "debate" and then lock them all up as a public safety measure.


You know, in a way, I actually wish we could have a series of weekly debates where we "vote one off" each time. The results don't have to be binding (that would probably be unconstitutional, anyway), but I think it would be interesting to see how the candidates behave when faced by some more immediate pressure that has nothing to do with fundraising, for a change.

You know, sometimes it seems that the process we use to choose an American Idol is more thoughtful and considerate than how we choose our presidential candidates...


An actual debate would be nice. Each candidate gets a reasonable amount of time to answer the question, can rebut, can talk to the other candidate, can walk around the stage, etc. Topics may be vetted beforehand (this debate is about domestic agendas, this is about foreign policy, this is about economic goals, etc.), but questions can NOT be vetted. If there is a series of debates, each debate after the first should have a short section at the beginning to discuss any thoughts/clarifications/etc from the previous debates (sorry, the kid I said was in Florida was actually in Georgia; sorry, I actually do understand the digital world and that saying "Internets" makes me look like a disconnected grandpa; etc.) Have a full-length debate covered live on the net, and YouTube can permanently host the files afterwards. The television networks can cover whatever they want.


John Dickerson in Slate, among others I'm sure, has been discussing this very topic. I agree that the format needs a lot of work and there are some very good ideas out there. It would probably good to have a variety of types, a variety of venues, and even a variety of methods of "pushback" - viewers voting off less than stellar candidates, factchecking candidates statements, letting candidates go head to head to advance to the next round.
Something as simple as having more (many more, perhaps) debates might lessen the importance of any one debate format or venue.



Somebody, maybe even Fox, had suggested an American-Idol type show to find an independent candidate. Idea floated a few years ago and magically disappeared. Ya gotta wonder why. It would surely be a ratings hit, but maybe the powers that be felt threatened by it? Anyway, my suggestion is a la Pardon the Interruption, the sports-rant show that ends with Stat Boy correcting the misstatements of the show's hosts. Would a debate Stat Boy be a real prize of a feature?


let nadar debate, in order to bring up issues avoided by both parties (e.g. campaign finance reform)
suggested thought exercise: you are reading to children, and an aide informs you that new york may be under attack. you:
a- politely excuse yourself and go to kick some terrorist tucus
b- politely excuse yourself and emergently meet with the cabinet (minus the VP)
c- politely excuse yourself in order to feign competence
d- keep on reading
ok, I was joking about d- nobody would EVER do THAT


Hit the easy button.......bring back the League of Women voters to run all of the debates.

As for modifying the questions to be asked, how about a website devoted to asking potential questions, then allowing the public to vote, via the web, which questions should be asked. The questions with the highest vote count in a given category would then be asked at a given debate.


Self-regulating debate:

1 room
All the candidates
Plenty of mikes and video cameras running on automatic
Nobody else in the room, no moderators, no spouses, no reporters, no nobody

Then see what the candidates produce themselves!


Old-fashioned debate means debating each other.

All the candidates are there. A bank of topics is picked from some forum like what fredamerican suggests. Each candidate has a number.

A topic is announced and a random pair of numbers is picked. Those two candidates have 5 minutes to debate EACH OTHER on the selected topic.

The only thing the moderator does is announce the topic and roll the dice.


Just bring up subjects rather than have media personalities ask softball / insane / leading questions.

Let the candidates ask each other questions.

Ken Dyck

I think it'd be illuminating to broadcast the candidates playing a game of Monopoly together. It would demonstrate much more about their personalities than the highly-crafted images they portray to the press (which is a good reason to expect it will never happen).


Besides tradition, what does a debate give us to show their capacity as president?

Why don't we create a website dedicated to presidential candidate interviews? For each performance based question they have to respond in video format. The video has to be free form and not edited. They can deliver the message they want the public to know, then the other candidates can put out a rebuttle. Other vloggers can assemble these videos and the broadcasters could play them as programs.

This would allow a forum for equal time and energy to answer the questions given to them. This forum then can fact check and have the candidate clarify for the video.


Have them engage in completely non-political acitivities....we will already know all their positions on the various issues because of advertising and news coverage, so I'd be much more interested in seeing how they would react in various situations.

Have them play Texas Hold'Em.
Have them play Risk.
Have them play some sort of team game (can't think of one off the top of my head).
Have them complete a couple of Harvard Business School negotiation simulations, with roles assigned randomly (there's a great one on the West Bank I use in my current events class).


Does anyone remember American Gladiators?


Having the candidates play games may make for some interesting video, but would it really demonstrate how one would handle foreign or domestic affairs? Doubtful. Can we go back to old fashioned debate i.e. in the style of the Lincoln-Douglas debates?

Why do americans favor the quick and foolish to the slow and prudent?


In the business world we use PowerPoint. We use it a lot. It's how we make points. Apparently it is how the Pentagon is run. The program has even changed the way we think, or at least I read an article about that ten years ago.

Why then do politicians rarely use any AV?


Making them ask each other questions would indeed be cool. Think they would do it?