The official general election presidential debate format has been pretty stagnant over the last several decades with two (sometimes three) candidates taking questions from a moderator with little interaction from actual voters. Various media outlets in 2008 and 2012 livened their primary debates up with concepts like a “YouTube” debate where candidates answered questions submitted in video form by voters. Of course, most of the networks integrated social media into their coverage as well.

This has not been the case with the Commission on Presidential Debates which has kept the same format of moderator-candidate questioning. However, a group of researchers making up the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential General Election Debates aims to possibly change this in 2016.

Report from The Daily Pennsylvanian:

Prominent Republican attorney and 1974 College graduate and former Daily Pennsylvanian Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Ginsberg and Annenberg School of Communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson are specifically looking at the format of these debates as part of the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential General Election Debates. The group aims to evaluate current methodologies of presidential debates, such as its format and location.

In response to recent rapid advances in technology, they are also considering ways of integrating social media into the debates. Results of their study are expected by late spring.

“We’re not saying something is broken and we’re trying to fix it,” Jamieson told Politico earlier this week. “We’re saying there’s an enormous potential here for voter learning and asking if there’s a way to increase the number of people who benefit from that.”

Both Jamieson and Ginsberg declined to comment further about the group until the results of its study are released.

The working group has already met twice this fall — both times at Penn’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. It is planning to meet with leaders of the Commission on Presidential Debates next month to discuss the intentions of its study.

Seems like baby steps to me in terms of getting social media involved in the debates. As stated above, nearly all the networks did that during primary debates in 2008 and 2012. However, I’m glad to see at least some element of the format may be getting updated into this century.


  1. Social Media involvement during the actual debates are probably not efficient. Input from social media prior to, vetted, and integrated into debates could be very helpful and truly give the questions a straight forward grassroots and ‘we the people’ perspective.

  2. I would be more interested in simply an unscripted, but timed debate between the two. It would more educational to find out, unprompted by any ‘moderator’, what questions and topics each would raise for the other to answer and how each would defend their responses. Lincoln/Douglas would be my touchstone. I would be as informed by what subjects were not brought forward as by those that were.

  3. Nate — “In response to recent rapid advances in technology”

    how about hooking them up to ADVANCED polygraph machines — where with each lie told, they get an increasing electric jolt;
    the loser will than be obvious to all — since will be wriggling on the floor by end of the debate….:)

  4. For better or worse, we have a two-headed monster ruling us–Democrats and Republicans; right and left.

    And, everybody thinks their candidate got a raw deal. Why not solve that by making it truly adversarial?

    I would love to see a debate in which the Republican faces questioning by Rachel Maddow, and Democrats face questioning by Ann Coulter.

    That would be worth watching. Because the questions would be real, and the candidates would have to show how they can handle themselves.

  5. But I guess the real question was whether we should have “people” ask the questions, via live chat. I don’t see how that could be done. I mean, I know it could give the APPEARANCE of adding people to the debate, but it reminds me of experiences I had in 1995 on AOL.

    They had “interviews” with celebrities, and everyone could “tune in” and ask their questions. But what AOL did is create “layers” or “channels” of groups of people. Each group of 12 people, out of the thousands who tuned in, would be in a separate group. After watching it awhile, I realized that our questions were NOT going to be answered by the celebrity. And so, since there was always a delay between the host’s questions and the celebrity’s typed answer, I started answering FOR the celebrity, giving smartass comments I wish they would say. It ended up being a LOT of fun, as others in my group caught on that no one was reading our comments, so we could type like crazy in between the host and celebrity, and it was truly hilarious.

    But nobody at AOL bothered to read our comments, and I’m sure the celebrity had no idea what fun we were having at her expense. And I am sure this would be the result of including social media–lots of questions would be asked, and people would think they were “speaking their minds,” but what they wouldn’t realize is that NO ONE WAS LISTENING.

  6. or run the pres debates on the Price is Right,
    nothing will change except who wears a chicken or turkey outfit… so gets the prize accordingly.

  7. How about going old school and do a radio debate…no cameras? People would likely pay more attention to content than personality.

  8. Unless the format allows free questions that are pertinent, the “debates” will remain nothing but a scripted joke, again.

    Here are some issues that need to be addressed by all.

    NSA spying at home; Obamacare, Term Limits, the need that Congress and Senate and the executive branch be held to the same laws as the rest of the people (not exempt from Obamacare, and such other travesties, as they are):

    1) NSA spying on all of us — “Rand Paul: We Want Our Freedoms Back”

    Report: NSA tracks billions of cellphones daily:

    2) Obamacare — Rand Paul: Young Healthy People Aren’t Going to Buy ObamaCare

    Rand Paul: Medicare Is Already $35 Trillion Short Why Would We Want To Add New Entitlement Programs?


    3) Rand Paul On His Constitutional Amendment: A Just Law Is A Law that Applies To Everyone!


    Rand Paul must win in 2016, or we’ll lose our free nation forever! There is ABSOLUTELY no other option!!!

    • Obvious: Your hysteria really does get tedious.

      Churchill said something like “America always does the right thing–after exhausting every other option.”

      Twain is supposed to have said, “God watches over drunks, small children, and the United States of America.”

      Despite your fear-mongering, we’ll muddle through somehow. We always do.

      And I refuse to believe we ever have only one option.

      • Goethe – Obvious brought up valid concerns – no we won’t muddle through, this time. The U.S,.of A.’ times’ is just about expired and will soon be the U.S.S.A. It will last about 40 to 50 years and collapse completely into chaos. The Ol’ Man upstairs doesn’t put the U.S. before any other country, human, or animal. we agreed to a lesson plan then thoroughly fk’d it up with free will. (read Wiley’s Non Sequitur about Homer .)

        You’ll probably be given the whip & chains for the FEMA violators like – my guns will be redistributed so you’ll just get the body.

        • Sam: The hysteria just gets tiresome.

          The sky is falling, the world is coming to an end, and we’re all gonna die.

          It’s what Republicans said about Clinton. It’s what Democrats said about Bush. It’s what the opposition will say about the next president. Sigh.

          • Goethe – This POTUS is a little different!!! This Person(??) is the only President in our history who doesn’t like the U.S.A. and has had this hate ingrained in him since birth (wherever the hell it was). The only POTUS ashamed of America and is of the opinion,we are a colonialist country, and an insurgent into Middle-East affairs. A promise he intends to keep is to fundamentally change the U.S.! He intends to socialize this country,if not make it a communist country or at the very least make us a Euro-socialist country who is broke and second rate. In addition, as a Muslim, he uses Taqiyya to a fault and dis-service to purposely mislead us.

            I am amazed, the historian you are, even if a Democrat, you don’t see the difference between this POTUS and every other POTUS in our short history.

            • Sam: I think both parties are stupid,but I happen to be registered as a Republican.

              My point was that something changed during Bush41’s term. Republicans developed a hatred for him that had not been seen since Nixon. That transferred to Clinton, and then Dems hated Bush43, and now Republicans hate Obama.

              It’s all insane and neurotic and pathological, but that’s the state of the nation.

              With Obama, there’s a new twist, in which his haters spend half their time saying he’s an evil communist, Muslim, America hating, monster who has a grand plan to bring the end of the country, world, universe. Then, they spend the other half of their time saying he’s totally incompetent, weak, delusional, stupid, and can’t tie his shoes by himself.

              And the real irony is that the people who say he’s a genius and also an idiot never comprehend how stupid THEY sound.

            • Goethe – I hear you and agree to some extent. I know several Pubs turned Independent mostly because of Iraq. And as you said a great animosity between parties. But, trust me this POTUS is different than any previous in our history. Even far Lefties doesn’t feel about the U.S. as B.O. does. I have never heard of or known of a POTUS apologizing for the United States. Nor one with a low opinion of the U.S., almost as if he was not a citizen. Believe me, this man(?) will try to take us down before his term is over, and my guess is he will try to extend his term. There is nothing genius about Obama, he simply hates America. Study him, Goethe! I was never seriously focused on politics until 2007. And i have been declared as an Independent since ‘Nam but Kennedy was the last Democrats president I would have voted for.

            • Sam: I have plenty of beefs with Mr. Big Ears, but I think the criticisms are way off the rails from some of these people.

              I think “doesn’t love America” is a good example. Total subjective fluff. How could that possibly be verified or disproven? Just meaningless pablum.

              But the charge that he apologized for America is a claim that did or did not happen. I remember that he tried to bring us back into the community if nations on his first trip abroad, after we had isolated ourselves in the “for us or against us” punk mentality that refused to even listen to anyone else I the world, making Tony Blair a very unhappy poodle, indeed.

              But you and I have agreed on major errors the US has made in foreign policy. Are you thinking we should only speak of our errors internally? Is that your point?

              But, anyway, I’m old and can’t remember Mr. O apologizing. Can you specify for this ol’ geezer?

            • Goethe – The Washington Post (liberal) takes your point of view: In 2011 –

              Maybe your correct, he has never used the word “apologize”, however the attitude, and position he takes leaves an impression on the world stage that we have been a “bad” country and he feels shame for the United States. He doesn’t sympathize, he empathizes with other countries for who we are, like not one of us.

              This is the conservative view:
              No matter the perspective, he doesn’t stand up for America. The POTUS/CinC regardless of the situation should be the proudest representative of this country. He should beat the drum for what we have positively done both now and in the past not even acknowledge, let alone belabor any inadequacies. we are the most powerful nation in the world, if we mistake, we will remedy, more so than any other nation. And our leader should emulate that position and we will keep peace. You do your thing, we do ours In more guttural terms, don’t screw with us or you’ll get a bat in the butt.

              “Are you thinking we should only speak of our errors internally? Is that your point?” actually behind closed doors – our business is our business, no one else’s! this is the world, not some game. Show weakness and some idiot will start WWIII and total devastation! Do you see any other nation declare there weakness??

            • Sam: Thanks for the Post link. I never read them, so it was informative. It appears that the “apology” label came from the whiplash of the previous “no apology” attitude. And by “no apology,” I mean do any damned thing without regard to anyone else’s position. We couldn’t really do that during the Cold War, but as the only remaining Super Power, we have the choice whether we want to act responsibly.

              The FreeBeacon piece is cherry-picking silliness.
              1) I don’t think anyone can deny that we’ve seen West Europe as our “bitch” since WWII. It’s not “apologizing” to say that we don’t recognize that they should be considered important–and a tool to use (ie, “leading from the back”).
              2) Likewise, the statement in Turkey was a matter of pointing out Turkey’s history, and then empathizing that we have also had problems to overcome.
              3) The Spain is, again, trying to get them involved.
              4) “We’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn.” They’re trying to call that an apology? Speaking at CIA headquarters, encouraging them to get over past problems?
              5)Also a speech in DC, to encourage us to move ahead despite mistakes. The writer was really stretching.

              As I say, there are plenty of legitimate complaints about Obama. It only weakens the attack to try so hard to justify a false charge.

              And, yes, the last question was sincere–how and where things are said. And it is the real problem with the Snowden situation. He claims that he has only released 1% of what he has. With leaks taken out of context, he could single-handedly destroy our position in the world, because in international affairs, perception is reality.

        • samreusser — correct.

          Our liberties keep getting fewer with each election, and eventually they’ll end if unchecked by a new President that is for Individual Freedom and small gov (as the Original US Constitution was framed)!

          This is obvious to all that think for themselves (not the muddle heads who bury their heads in the sand and assume that we can survive the point of no return…”because we can muddle through again” since they are unable to see that we are rapidly approaching the point of no return if Obama and his likes are allowed to continue the devastation of our nation)!

          So I say again, that unless Rand Paul (or someone with his presidential stature and beliefs) wins in 2016, we are doomed as free people — another Obamanite (whether Repub or Dem) will end us for good!

          It won’t take 40 years, more like 4 years to finish us off!

  9. Goethe…I noticed you spoke of Edward Snowden in the above post. Time magazine (Dec 23, 2013 issue) has an excellent article about Snowden “The Dark Prophet” by Michael Scherer. In just two sentences , it furnished this comparison “Benjamin Franklin, who as Postmaster General in 1773, helped leak letters from American officials who were secretly collaborating with British Authorities”. So, it appears we have always had Americans with firm morals of right and wrong. When I read that there “is storage of billions of records a day–everything that passes through a fiber-optic cable, for instance, or gets beamed through the airways.” I just shrugged but when I read further “the cell phone in your pocket records your movements and stores that information with your service carrier. The e-mail,chat and text messages you create map your social relations and records your thoughts. Credit card purchases show spending habits and tastes. The search terms you enter into your laptop–preserved by Google in ways that can be used to identify your computer for a standard period of nine months–may tell more about your deepest desires than anything you would admit to a friend or lover.” The subject is now personal to me…and to use of of Sam’s potent expressions “someone should get a bat in the butt”.

    • Tess: Also, The New York Times is now calling Snowden a “whistleblower,” and is singing his praises. I thought how wonderful it would be to have Surfisher/Obvious have to praise a New York Times story.

      Anyway, I do agree that it was good for us to know what you’re saying.

      My only real beef with him is that he didn’t take responsibility for his actions. Daniel Ellsberg didn’t fly off to China. He stood and took his lumps.

      Also, I am still concerned that they say he has only released about ONE PERCENT of what he has.

      But mostly, I’m concerned about his hubris. He claims that he’s so smart that neither China’s nor Russia’s entire spy organizations are smart enough to find his stash, or what’s in it.

      It’s not what he did. It’s the way he did it that bothers me.

      And I’m not sure that praise from Time Magazine and the New York Times is likely to win over Sam. . .

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