/stories/2019/06/the-democratic-presidential-debates-come-to-miami

The Democratic presidential debates come to Miami

Art: Kevin Corrales/University of Miami

By UM News

Art: Kevin Corrales/University of Miami

The Democratic presidential debates come to Miami

By UM News
The first debates of the Democratic presidential primary season will take place over two nights. How will the candidates compete to come out on top?

It will be a remarkable scene this week in Miami, unfolding inside the elegant Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts that has featured ballet, opera, world-renowned symphonies, and Broadway shows. 

But nothing may compare to what viewers could witness Wednesday and Thursday nights, when a total of 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls—10 each night—will take the stage in what could be a free-for-all of sniping and finger-pointing, complete with bombastic promises if she or he were to win the 2020 general presidential election. 

Each competitor will be trying to place their mark on the campaign in the hope of advancing to the next round of debates and a future primary election. Each of them is trying to decipher the winning formula on how best to distinguish themselves. 

University of Miami faculty experts weigh in on what viewers—and voters—can expect to see during the debates. 

How can a candidate stand out from the pack when they are part of such a large group? 

Each candidate will have different goals. They are at different stages in their campaigns. Most are introducing themselves; the established and better-known candidates will be positioning for the primaries and fundraising. The unique setting will demand that each create a brand or identifying characteristic, by style, story, group affiliation, or policy position.

-- David Steinberg, associate professor of professional practice in the School of Communication and director of debate.  

Except for Joe Biden, they will all be looking to have some sort of soundbite that captures people’s attention. A quick phrase, something very short that makes them stand out from other candidates and then their broader audience can echo across the media landscape.  

-- Gregory Koger, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science

Can one really call this a debate of ideas, given the format?

No, but that’s not unique. Campaign debates have never been “debates” in the sense of comparison of competing argumentation. This is especially true for primary debates, where the participants scarcely disagree. These are press conferences, which are valuable for many reasons, but not debates. They are opportunities for interested voters and potential voters to see all the candidates and develop a feel for them. 

-- David Steinberg, associate professor of professional practice in the School of Communication and director of debate. 

No. There is no way 10 people can have a meaningful conversation on any one area or topic in any depth. It gives them a chance to try to get some attention and rise above the pack. As the democratic process goes forward the number of candidates on stage will start to be reduced. What candidates are trying to do now is get enough attention to survive the next cut and move on in the debate process. Later on when the number is smaller, then they can have a real conversation.

-- Gregory Koger, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science

What are some of the topics that you feel need to be addressed? 

The polls will likely drive this: jobs, economy/tariffs, immigration, climate, guns, health care, education, abortion, and the rights of women. Underpinning all the policy questions, however, will be the most important question: can the candidate beat Trump?

-- David Steinberg, associate professor of professional practice in the School of Communication and director of debate.

There are so many policy issues that the Democrats would want to talk about. But the three issues that are harder and deserve discussion are: 

What should the country do about immigration?  I am really looking for comprehensive answers to that question. 

What is the country going to do in terms of its budget, the tax policy of 2017 and coming up with the money to invest in its infrastructure and other needs. A lot of candidates have voiced spending money on this, but figuring out where that money is going to come from and what the Democratic position is on the 2017 tax cuts, that is more complicated. I would like to hear candidates articulate that position. 

The third is what happens to this country after Trump. Even if he is defeated in 2020, he will leave a legacy in this country’s democracy: decreased faith in our institutions, decreased adherence to our political norms. So, whoever that next leader is will have the challenge of putting this system back together in terms of having citizens and politicians follow the norms of democracy. That’s a tougher question and I would like to hear candidates talk about how they are going to put the system back together.  

-- Gregory Koger, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science  

Can the interest of voters be obtained this early on?

High involvement voters are looking forward to this like baseball fans can’t wait for spring training. For most, though, it will be a hard sell.  
-- David Steinberg, associate professor of professional practice in the School of Communication and director of debate. 

No. Polls mostly track who has the best name recognition. So early on respondents were saying that in first place was Joe Biden and second place was Bernie Sanders, which ideologically does not make much sense. They represent the two different parts of the Democratic Party. But they are also two of the best-known candidates. So if you don’t know the 24 [candidates] and you are hearing the names you know, then Biden and Bernie make sense. So it’s a part of the process to reduce the number of candidates and then voters gradually get knowledge of those candidates so they can make an informed choice. So they no longer go with the name they know, but rather with the one that they think will make the best next president of the United States.

-- Gregory Koger, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science

Is there an advantage to being a participant in the first group of candidates (for Wednesday night)?     

The strategic advantage will be on night two, as rebuttal and responses to night one will emerge. But early answers (night one) will establish much of the substantive ground, so that is a presumptive advantage going forward.

-- David Steinberg, associate professor of professional practice in the School of Communication and director of debate.  

I think so. There will be a lot of attention because it will be the first debate of the season. If I were a candidate I would want to be on Wednesday night. There will be a lot of people tuning in that will not be likely to tune in on Thursday. Elizabeth Warren is recognized as the best known in the Wednesday night group so the fact that she is going first and is the best recognized one in the group will probably benefit her a lot.

-- Gregory Koger, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Political Science