New Data from TIME’S UP Shows Women, People of Color and Especially Women of Color are Wildly Underrepresented as Debate Moderators, with Trendlines Moving in the Wrong Direction on Racial Representation

Today’s voters are more diverse than ever before. In fact, women are consistently a solid majority of voters casting their ballots, and for the first time ever people of color are projected to account for one-third of voters nationwide.

But for many years, the issues of central concern to women, people of color and especially women of color have been relegated to secondary status in the political conversation. For example, the nonprofit research consortium The Women’s Debate analyzed 700 questions spanning 21 debates in the 2016 primary cycle and found that only six questions about issues that disparately affect women and were not about abortion or Planned Parenthood were asked of the candidates. Importantly, all six of these questions were asked by women moderators.

In addition, at a time when issues of race took center stage and race relations dipped to a troubling low point in the 2016 election cycle, candidates were rarely asked by debate moderators about the issues and concerns central to people of color. During the first and second Republican primary debates of 2016, Republican candidates were asked only one question about the transformational Black Lives Matter movement, and Democrats were asked only a single question about the Black Lives Matter movement at their first debate, as well. In response, Black Lives Matter issued a statement asking for more in-depth questions about the issues that catalyzed Black Lives Matter in the first place.

Why the Moderators Matter

Throughout history, presidential debates have been an indispensable forum for voters to determine where the candidates stand. When it comes to the presidential debates this cycle, much attention has been paid to who will be able to stand at the candidate lecterns. But an often overlooked factor is equally important: who sits at the moderators’ table.

Debate moderators hold an enormous amount of power when it comes to how debates are conducted, what questions are asked, and which issues are considered central to each election. Debate moderators relay voters’ concerns and interests, bridge the gap between the people and the politicians, and vet our next president.

On May 31, 2019, the Democratic National Committee took an historic positive step forward by requiring at least one woman moderator at each presidential debate. Original research from TIME’S UP shows why this policy matters, but must be only the beginning.


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