There’s a strange, messed up problem with the way our system works for the major political debates for President.
Any candidate that is going to be able to appear in the Presidential debates has to be polling above 15% before the debate begins. That seems like a pretty high hurdle to clear, considering that the (good) reason most people choose to vote for a candidate is for their policy. Debates are the best opportunity for leaders to demonstrate their vision and understanding of the country’s situation to garner support for their leadership. However, when candidates are not even allowed to participate in the debates, they cannot gain the support they need to be allowed to enter into the debate.
In fact, candidates have to be “polling” above 15%, but frequently, only the Republican and Democratic parties are included in those polls. It is most definitely impossible to garner 15% of the potential support if you are not even listed as an option in the polls.
I realize that there may be some importance to having the field narrow down to the candidates at some point, but that point is not day 1. It really seems like that should come much later. It seems wrong that the candidates who get the most and strongest support from the media become the ones that are polling well, since those are the names and positions that people know. You cannot plan to vote for somebody that you have never heard of, and letting media choose who they cover in this way skews the whole process. This was one of the major obstacles to Bernie Sanders and his run this year – he simply was not getting any coverage in the corporate media, even when drawing many thousands of people to hear him speak during the primaries. His support came from social media, where people who found him and embraced his message shared him with other people they knew. In the opposite direction, Donald Trump got intense media coverage in spite of having few – if any – clearly expressed policy positions (though his vision for the direction he wants to take America is pretty clear).
What I would like to see is some kind of opportunity for smaller parties to share their positions more publicly. I do think social media (e.g. “Facebook”) is a good platform for getting started, but increasingly social media sites are meddling with what information you are presented with, leading us back to square one (information about candidates being controlled by people with a vested interest in the outcome of elections) with the illusion of progress. There are a lot of problems with our system, and stifling the voices of minority parties is one of them. Even if they are not winning elections and nobody voted for them, they still contribute to the conversation by pulling different issues to the fore and forcing the established politicians to address real concerns. As it stands, our political system has degenerated to a contest where there are two major parties, each trying to convince voters that the other is the worse choice, instead of having to express why they are the best choice. We must open our debates to more participants. Having more competition during debates would elevate the dialogue in the most American way possible.