Who Gets to Debate?

Campaigns for the Republican and Democratic parties have received millions in campaign contributions; other political parties don's have access to that kind of money. ILLUSTRATION: David Hollenbach

Campaigns for the Republican and Democratic parties have received millions in direct contributions; other political parties don’t have access to that kind of money. ILLUSTRATION: David Hollenbach

By ROSE MARSH, age 11

In a true democracy, candidates who get on the ballot for a presidential election would all have the right to debate their views on peace, war, healthcare and education, to name a few. In the United States, the debates are hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. Independent parties (also known as third parties) such as the Green party, the American Independence party, and Socialist parties, aren’t as well known throughout the nation as the Democrats and Republicans.

Without access to televised debates, it’s almost impossible to win a presidential election. Paying for advertising is another way to be heard. According to the Washington Post, from November 2011 to September 2012 the Republican and Democratic parties spent $450 million on television advertisements. Independent parties have nowhere close to that amount of money to spend on advertising.

The United States is considered a democracy even though people are only hearing from the Republican and Democratic parties. In a true democracy, each candidate would have an equal opportunity to publicize how they feel about any issue, and have the same chance of becoming president as anyone else.

Even though a voter might support an independent candidate’s views, they may not vote for the party they support because they think it has almost no chance of winning.

How much money have the two main parties raised for this election?

Mitt Romney: $194.8 million
Republican National Committee (RNC): $239.8 milion
Restore our Future Super PAC: $89.7 million

Barack Obama: $351.6 million
Democratic National Committee (DNC): $210.8 milion
Priorities U.S.A. Super PAC: $25.3 million

This is only part of the money that these parties have raised; there are many other organizations that raise money to support political parties

(Source: New York Times 2012 Money Race, January 2011 to July 2012)

How much Super PAC money was spent on attacking an opposing candidate on TV?

Restore Our Future supports Mitt Romney and spent $82,491,530 attacking President Obama.

Priorities USA supports President Obama and spent $27,527,965 attacking Mitt Romney.

When are the debates?

Debate 1: Wednesday, October 3 at 9:00-10:30pm Eastern Time

Jim Lehrer (host of NewsHour on PBS) will moderate a discussion on domestic policy between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Debate 2: Thursday, October 11 at 9:00-10:30pm Eastern Time

Martha Raddatz (ABC news chief foreign correspondent) will moderate a discussion on foreign and domestic policy between Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

Debate 3: Tuesday, October 16 at 9:00-10:30pm Eastern Time

Candy Crowley (CNN chief political correspondent) will moderate a town hall format discussion on foreign and domestic policy between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. A town hall format means the citizens in attendance will ask the candidates questions.

Debate 4: Tuesday, October 22 at 9:00-10:30pm Eastern Time

Bob Schieffer (host of Face the Nation on CBS) will moderate a discussion on foreign and domestic policy between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

What is a PAC?

“PAC” stands for “political action committee.” A PAC can do things like raise money for political candidates and air political ads on TV. The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (sometimes just called the Citizens United decision) changed the laws around PACs so that now, PACs can spend much more money on political campaigns than they were allowed to before. Most of the money raised for political campaigns tends to go to PACs and other, similar organizations, instead of directly to the candidates or their political parties.


  • The League of Women Voters (LWV), a nonpartisan political organization, which does not take sides, but aims to educate and empower voters used to sponsor the presidential debates. However, on October 3, 1988 the LVW issued a statement explaining why they were no longer sponsoring the presidential debates. Nancy M. Neuman, who was president of the LWV in 1988 said, “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October [between George H.W. Bush (Republican) and Michael Dukakis (Democrat)] because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetuate a fraud on the American voter.” Neuman continued, “It has become clear to us that the candidate’s organizations aim to address 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 League of Women Voters moderated the presidential debates in 1976, 1980 and 1984. The Commission on Presidential Debates, which was founded in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic parties have since moderated the presidential debates.
  • In 1992, the presidential debates featured an independent third party, represented by Ross Perot. Ross Perot debated with then President George H.W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton.

7 thoughts on “Who Gets to Debate?”

  1. I live in Canada and personally I don’t care but I really think that Obama has been doing a great job so far and whoever wins will affect Canada

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