Forensic Free-for-all
Lately it seems like each new day brings the announcement of yet another primary or caucus debate for the 2012 presidential election cycle. The whole scheduling process has taken on a cascading dominoes quality. Once the first debate was announced, the major media players – Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and locally WMUR-TV and the Union Leader – all scrambled to mark their respective forensic turf. We are currently up to seven scheduled debates and counting, in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.
I enjoy these debates as much as the next political junkie, but I think there is also a danger that too many of them in succession will diminish the impact of any one event as a genuine decision point for voters. I’m increasingly seeing a sort of debate saturation in each election cycle (midterm and presidential), with these numerous events simply becoming an over-analyzed part of the weekly horse race discussion about which candidate is up or down based on their most recent debate performance.
There is clearly an economic incentive, as well as a prestige factor, at work here. Media outlets want these debates because they drive viewership, allowing them to schedule days of pre- and post-debate coverage for a one-hour event that typically breaks little new substantive ground for voters, even when a dozen candidates aren’t crowding the stage. Individual states love them because they bring lots of attention home and feed into the kingmaker aspect of the presidential selection process.
I know some people will argue that the more exposure voters have to the candidates and issues the better informed their vote choice will be, and that debates are a key means of ensuring this access. But I’m not sure the current proliferation of debates is occurring for the right reasons. Don’t get me wrong – I love the drama of political debates. I just wish there were fewer, so that the stakes for both candidates and voters would be a lot higher.
Note: Back posting on Wednesday. -Dean

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