We're entering the season of political debates, so we queried our insiders in politics and government about those perennial campaign events.
A large majority said that televised debates in high-profile races are useful to voters. About a third of the insiders said there should be two debates in the campaign for governor; the same number said there should be three. Only a few said no debates are needed, and 15 percent said the candidates should meet four or more times.
The “debate debate” that seems to precede these affairs prompted us to ask whether a candidate’s willingness — or unwillingness — to debate has any effect on voters’ choices: 55 percent said it does not.
Finally, we asked the insiders to rank different ways to get to know more about candidates and debates came in second — behind one-on-one interviews and ahead of town hall appearances and news stories. TV commercials, by the way, came in last in that ranking.
As always, we collected verbatim remarks along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:
Are televised debates in high-profile political races useful to voters?
• "They could be useful to voters if the moderator's intent is not to instigate, but to facilitate a debate on issues Texas voters care about."
• "It helps for the voters to see the candidates in other than a political ad, and in situation where the candidates are responding to questions without a script. For the candidates it is an opportunity for either leaving a very positive impression on those viewing the event, or making a major mistake. That may assist voters see how the candidates will function in day to day governance."
• "A cage match with sharp objects would be a better use of time and generate higher ratings. The only people who watch are partisans who have already made up their minds. Real people are watching Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, and replays of the 1973 Super Bowel highlights."
• "Why risk an 'oops moment' and give your opponent life if your the front runner. Debates are for those currently in second place."
• "While many voters may not tune into the debate, they will most likely hear about it through social media and press coverage. It is a core element of democracy..."
• "They are a circus performance held for the gratification of the media. The public doesn't watch and doesn't care."
• "No, they're not useful to serious voters, because today's debates don't allow a candidate to fully explain his/her position or challenge the other feller's. Sound bites don't educate serious voters."
• "Outside of the political class NO ONE CARES. There is a normal world out there where people live their lives. It does not involve political people. In that world the important things have more to do with the kids getting up and going to school, dad/mom having a bad day at work and what our parents are doing. They don't care about 2 boring people arguing while a bunch of arrogant press sit around acting like they know everything and are above it all. One day the normal people will rise up and both the political people and the press out of work."
• "You have to watch them in order for them to be useful"
How many statewide televised debates should there be in the race for governor?
• "'Don't care' should have been an option."
• "An hour long debate should provide enough time for each candidate to separate themselves from the other. The problem is that the only people who actually watch the debates are those who already know how they are voting."
• "More than ONE!"
• "One should be plenty."
• "This state has 26 million people in it. The person who governs it must be up to the task. We deserve to see our candidates prove themselves in intellectual combat over the course of at least four encounters."
• "The more the better."
• "Two and only two. Anyone who says the more the better is simply a wonk and glutton for (political) punishment."
Does a candidate's willingness or unwillingness to debate have any effect on voters' choices?
• "Voters may tune in if there is a debate, but won't care if there isn't one."
• "If the voters are engaged. I hate to bring it up but remember Ted Cruz's duck that used to follow Lt. Governor Dewhurst around?"
• "If a tree falls in the forest...nobody cares about this outside the Austin bubble."
• "It could add to their opponent's narrative on the candidate but for the most part these negotiations are very inside baseball and don't move poll numbers."
• "It probably doesn't, but it should. It's understandable why the leader in the polls might not want to risk tripping up before an audience of voters, but if he or she wants to be the leader of the people, then that person should have enough courage and confidence to face potentially tough situations."
• "Apparently none, see Perry-Hutchison"
• "A candidate's ability or inability to debate is not a relevant qualification for the job. It's not part of the job description. He or she doesn't face weekly questions like the Prime Minister in England."
• "Debates (like newspaper editorials) are relics of the political past. Candidates have proven they can win without showing up for either. Few votes (if any) will be swayed by - what the political media believes to be - the big debate scheduled on a (high school football) Friday night in the Rio Grande Valley. Few people will see it. Even fewer will read about on Saturday."
Rank these different ways to get to know more about candidates:
• "Question 4 doesn't make sense to me. Are you asking rank the way to get the highest quality information about the candidates, or are you asking rank how it's most likely that you'll get the highest quantity of information about the candidates. The rankings are different."
• "How voters can be informed, people cry a river of tears about being busy, not time to vote, cannot find the info, BS, it is there quit being lazy, and as I said earlier, maybe we need to teach civic engagement in school, no, not that crap about anti all of this and protesting, I mean why you should be engaged, what happens if you are not, how important it is, how little time it takes to vote and be informed."
Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Jennifer Ahrens, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, David Cabrales, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Marc Campos, Snapper Carr, William Chapman, Elna Christopher, Kevin Cooper, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Glenn Deshields, Holly DeShields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, Gay Erwin, Jon Fisher, Wil Galloway, Norman Garza, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, John Greytok, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Deborah Ingersoll, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Matt Matthews, Jason McElvaney, Kathy Miller, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Steve Murdock, Keir Murray, Nelson Nease, Keats Norfleet, Pat Nugent, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Propes, Ted Melina Raab, Tim Reeves, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, Grant Ruckel, Tyler Ruud, Jason Sabo, Luis Saenz, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Steve Scurlock, Ben Sebree, Christopher Shields, Julie Shields, Nancy Sims, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Jason Stanford, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Jay Thompson, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, Corbin Van Arsdale, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Christopher Williston, Seth Winick, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.