Will the presidential debate moderators attract a young, diverse audience?

  /  09.13.2016

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced last week the moderators for the 2016 general election presidential and vice presidential debates. The selections raise the questions: Will young people tune in to watch the debates — on TV or online? Will the moderators be able to represent the interests of young voters, by raising issues or asking questions that align with what young voters need to hear about from the candidates? The moderators and the schedule for the debates are as follows:

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt will moderate the first presidential debate on Monday, September, 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Elaine Quijano, a CBS News correspondent and CBSN anchor will moderate the vice presidential debate on Tuesday, October 4, at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

The second presidential debate, scheduled for Sunday, October, 9 at Washington University in St. Louis, will be co-moderated by Martha Raddatz, chief global affairs correspondent and co-Aachor of This Week on ABC, and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. The debate will use a townhall meeting style format.

And Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox News Sunday, will moderate the third presidential debate on Wednesday, October, 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Steve Scully, senior executive producer, White House and political editor for C-SPAN Networks, will serve as backup moderator for all the debates.

The CPD selects moderators based on three criteria: a) familiarity with the candidates and the major issues of the campaign, b) extensive experience in live television broadcast news, and c) an understanding that the debate should focus maximum time and attention on the candidates and their views. This year’s moderators are considerably more diverse than in past election cycles, with an African-American, two women, and an out gay man among the group. At the same time, young voters who tune into the debates looking for a voice that represents their cohort will be out of the luck. None of the moderators selected are part of their peer group, and whether their questions or their approach will resonate with young voters is unknown. Quijano, the youngest of the moderators, is 41. Cooper is 49, Holt is 57, Raddatz is 63, and Wallace is 68.

Younger voters are expected to be one of the most critical voting blocs this election cycle, and recent polling shows that a disproportionately high number of this year’s still undecided voters are under age 35. Both campaigns are working hard to register, engage, and win over young voters, many of which will be going to the polls for the first time in 2016.

If the CPD had wanted to find a moderator who was under the age of 35, who would better resonate with young voters, who would they have considered? An informal survey offered up suggestions including Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver, all three of who used faux news/humor shows to successfully turn mostly younger audiences into serious news consumers. Political commentators Glenn Beck and Bill Maher, a conservative and liberal respectively, have attracted younger viewers to their shows on TV and online. Also suggested were Kelly Evans, the co-anchor of Closing Bell on CNBC, and Sway Calloway from MTV. All of these potential hosts would have met the criteria outlined by the CPD, most notably having significant experience hosting or leading televised forums.

If the CPD were to expand its selection criteria to include potential moderators with a more diverse background, the list might include author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, winner of the MacArthur Foundation Genius grant last year, Baratunde Thurston, a humorist and writer who was a producer for The Nightly Show on Comedy Central, or W. Kamau Bell, a sociopolitical stand-up comedian and host of the new CNN series United Shades of America. Both Angela Rye, a CNN political commentator and NPR political analyst, and Marc Lamont Hill, a BET News correspondent and CNN political commentator, are familiar faces to cable news viewers and have relevant expertise relating to the issues that will be debated as well. Even if the CPD did not consider any of these people to have sufficient experience as a television host, perhaps there are ways they could have been integrated into the format for the debates.

Real Talk | Marc Lamont Hill on Colin Kaepernick

Will you tune into watch the debates this fall? What interests you about the political debates — and what do you expect from the moderators so that your questions and issues get addressed? Who would you like to see tapped as moderator?

Let us know using the hashtag #REVOLT2Vote.


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