Green Room

Debate idea: candidates question the undecided voters

posted at 9:28 am on October 7, 2012 by

The vice-presidential debate is next on the agenda, but my thoughts keep drifting forward to the second presidential face-off: the October 16 debate between President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. This is the match-up with the “town hall” format. As previously noted, the participants in this debate are “undecided voters” chosen by the Gallup organization.

I’ve already stated my abhorrence for this format. Who is genuinely undecided at this stage of the campaign? I can only imagine it’s the uninformed or those leaning in one direction who might need some shoring up. Saturday Night Live satirized them hilariously here (be warned: ad precedes clip, but it’s still worth the watch):

Letting uninformed voters question the candidates is akin to a science teacher letting only the inattentive students in a class ask questions of Stephen Hawking during a visit to campus. Why should they be rewarded for their inattention? In such a case, it would be better for Mr. Hawking to question the slackers, probing the depth of their lack of knowledge and suggesting areas for improvement.

Come to think of it, perhaps that would be a better format for the Town Hall debate, too—the candidates get to question the participants, helping educate them on the role of government, what various programs can and can’t do, the federal budget, the Constitution, why we’re involved in different areas of the world. That might be something worth watching.

To be charitable, one can assume that many undecided voters simply have been busy with their own lives, neither news junkies nor obsessed with politics in general. Therefore, their focus will be on real, everyday problems that many Americans also face.

But just because these folks are undecided or don’t identify with a particular party (partisan),  doesn’t necessarily mean they’re non-ideological. If pressed, they might be able to give you a general sense of what they think government should be doing in their own lives. In that case, what you have is an undecided leaner, someone who leans toward or away from a particular theory of government. And if they haven’t given a lot of thought to the role of government in their lives, there’s a better chance they lean left than right. It’s a multi-step process to get from “I want such-and-such in my life” to “but the government shouldn’t have to give it to me.” It probably takes more than the allotted debate time to be convinced of that philosophy or to reason that out.

The question remains: why do these folks get access to the president of the United States and his challenger on one of the rare occasions we get to see the candidates together?

I can understand the impulse behind the crafting of the town hall format. So-called “everyday Americans” are more likely to bring general macro policy discussions down to the micro level. But surely there are ways to probe the candidates’ stances on issues at that level other than subjecting them—and those of us who have done our homework, studied and paid attention—to questions from folks who might not know their own minds, let alone the pressing policies of the day.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist

Recently in the Green Room:



Trackback URL


Interesting idea Libby. I agree with you in that I don’t understand the whole celebratory attitude that we have towards undecided voters–many of them are undecided because they don’t have a clue what’s going on. Why do they get special access to the candidates? It seems to be rewarding laziness to me.

Take care, and have a nice Sunday. 🙂

X0X0, Suzi

Susannah Fleetwood on October 8, 2012 at 12:03 AM

I’m unsure whether the undecided voters of today are the same undecided voters of a week ago. Maybe some Obama voters moved to undecided and some undecided moved to Romney.

jtdavies on October 8, 2012 at 4:27 PM

HotAir — Politics, Culture, Media, 2017, Breaking News from a conservative viewpoint
Top Pick

Taking it to the limit

Sunday morning talking heads

Jazz Shaw Jun 25, 2017 8:01 AM
Top Pick

Health care and tweeting and Russia, oh my!

Will they stay or will they go?

I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I said that

Rocking the boat majorly

Big government never contracts. It only grows more powerful

It’s only a “ban” until it becomes inconvenient

The decline and fall of Obamacare and the AHCA

Jazz Shaw Jun 24, 2017 8:31 AM

This was all over before it began

Fixing crime in America is a complicated issue

Taylor Millard Jun 23, 2017 8:31 PM

Cops alone won’t solve it.

Victim’s father was President Maduro’s supervisor back when he was a bus driver.

Democrats forgot all about the “era of good feelings”

“Bernie and Jane Sanders have lawyered up.”

“the Judiciary Committee is examining the circumstances surrounding the removal of James Comey.”

Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing

Trump signs VA reform bill into law

John Sexton Jun 23, 2017 2:41 PM

“What happened was a national disgrace, and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls.”

A new era of something.

“…died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the U.S.”

The shortsightedness of “Denounce and Preserve”

Taylor Millard Jun 23, 2017 12:11 PM

Pragmatism for the sake of pragmatism doesn’t always work.

Perhaps if you threw in a new car?

Gay marriages still growing, but not as fast

Andrew Malcolm Jun 23, 2017 10:31 AM

More, but not as quickly.

Should’ve stuck with the pirate gig. It was working for him

The battle for the rubble of Raqqa is underway

Andrew Malcolm Jun 23, 2017 8:51 AM

Won’t be much left.

Your list of demands is a publicity stunt

“what happened that day was emblematic of a deeply troubling trend among progressives…”

“The jobs are still leaving. Nothing has stopped.”

Bad vendor. Bad! No cookie!

“The Corps is just starting to grapple with the issues the court has identified.”

“So you want me to sing my praises, is that what you’re saying?”

Why would we possibly want that?

“I mean he sold our country to The Russians.”

I could think of someone else you might want to ask about…

“You can ask a hundred people what hate speech is and you get a thousand different answers”

Trump: I never made any recordings of Comey

Allahpundit Jun 22, 2017 2:01 PM


Hackers stole private data from election databases

John Sexton Jun 22, 2017 1:21 PM

“90,000 records stolen by Russian state actors contained drivers license numbers”

Failure to protect the city