Include more questioners from more diverse media. Change the debate timetable to account for early voting. And in most cases, don’t have an audience.
Those are among the recommendations of the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential Campaign Debate Reform, a 16-member bipartisan group that studied the debate process for the past 18 months.
In recent election cycles, major presidential candidates have debated three times and vice presidential candidates once. Audiences are usually present, and debates are usually held between mid-September and mid-October.
The group’s recommendations include expanding the role of social media and including more diverse media outlets to host the debates. It would also enlarge the pool of moderators to include “print journalists, retired judges and other experts, instead of solely relying on television journalists.”
As for audiences, the group said that other than town hall formats, they aren’t necessary. It recalled that the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates had only small studio audiences.
Other suggestions: “Revising the debate timetable to take into account the rise of early voting” and “Employing a ‘chess clock’ model to encourage more substantive answers and allow the candidates to go into greater depth on issues that are important to them”
One area where the group could not agree is who to include. A majority, but not the entire group, backed “an escalating level of support for inclusion of third party or independent candidates, with the criteria for participation in the first debate 10 percent of support in public polling, increasing to 15 percent for the second and 25 percent for the third.”
The 16-person panel was suggested by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Co-chairs were Anita Dunn, a former Obama White House communications director, and Beth Myers, senior adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign .