The upcoming televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton figure to be must-watch television. After criticizing the timing of this year’s debates -- two of which will compete for viewers with nationally televised professional football games -- Trump says he expects to participate in all three of them.
1. What’s this year’s debate schedule?
Clinton and Trump are scheduled to participate in three 90-minute debates:
- Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Moderator Lester Holt of NBC poses questions during six 15-minute segments on different topics.
- Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis. Audience of uncommitted voters poses questions, as do moderators Martha Raddatz of ABC and Anderson Cooper of CNN using "social media and other sources."
- Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Format similar to first debate, with moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News.
Their running mates, Timothy Kaine and Mike Pence, are scheduled to debate on Oct. 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. That 90-minute debate will be led by Elaine Quijano of CBS and divided into nine topic segments of 10 minutes each.
2. Who sets the schedule and formats of debates?
Starting with the 1988 presidential election, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has arranged presidential and vice presidential debates and secured sponsorships from companies and foundations. The Republican and Democratic parties created the commission in 1987 because, as the commission writes, the "hastily arranged" debates in 1984 "reinforced a mounting concern that, in any given election," the candidates might fail to face off. The commission generally is open to negotiating with the candidates over details such as whether they will stand or sit and who gets the first question. Larger matters, such as dates and the identity of moderators, have generally not been open to negotiation after being set by the commission.
3. How about the Republican and Democratic primary debates?
The commission has no role in the primaries. The parties and individual campaigns are responsible for planning and participating in the legions of primary debates.
4. Will third-party candidates be included?
Only if they become lots more popular, and quickly. Under the debate commission’s rules, candidates need to be drawing an average of 15 percent of the vote in five national political polls in order to win a spot on stage. At the moment, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is drawing 7 to 12 percent in those polls, some of which haven’t been updated since July. Green candidate Jill Stein is drawing 2 to 5 percent. The Libertarian and Green parties went to court over the debate-participation rules, but a judge rejected their challenge. The last independent or third-party candidate to win a place was Ross Perot in 1992, before the commission instituted its 15 percent threshold.
5. How important will the debates be?
Though most voters could be already decided by then -- and two states, Minnesota and South Dakota, start early voting three days before the first debate -- the debates might be Trump’s best chance to narrow the lead that Clinton has opened in most polls since the party conventions. He was an effective debater during the crowded Republican primaries, labeling his opponents with unflattering nicknames and usually grabbing more than his share of microphone time. But a one-on-one debate will be a different challenge for Trump, requiring greater mastery of policy and a more polished demeanor. He also showed a willingness to skip a debate when he felt that served his purposes.
The Reference Shelf
- QuickTake Q&As on the Clinton-Trump race and global trade, Wall Street regulation and gun ownership.
- A column by Jonathan Bernstein on why the presidential debates might die.