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.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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