The questions that remain unasked

So tomorrow brings us debate number three: a “town hall” style debate between the Presidential principals at Hofstra University, directed by CNN’s Candy Crowley. I say directed because whole the questions posed will be given by the audience, a panel of likely voters identified by Gallup, the questions asked will be selected by Crowley. In discussions about the debate documented elsewhere, Crowley has been, shall we say, direct about her desire to out-Martha Raddatz Martha Raddatz. For those of a hockey persuasion, Ms. Crowley is ready to be Kerry “I am the game” Frasier:

“Once the table is kind of set by the town hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, and Z’?”.

The debate will run 90 minutes; figure about 10 of that is gone for opening and statements and for the basic “hellos” up front. That leaves 80 minutes. Each question will feature

  • an introduction of the questioner by Ms. Crowley (figure 15 seconds);
  • the question itself (figure 1 minute);
  • a first response (2 minutes);
  • a second response (2 minutes);
  • a “follow-up” by Ms. Crowley, for clarity, and subsequent responses (figure 3-4 minutes).
  • That means each question will take 8:15 to 9:15, meaning that in 80 minutes there’ll be time for 8 to 10 questions from the whole of the room. In this format, the moderator already has structural control, the ability to filter out “unimportant”, “repetitive”, “irrelevant” questions. So what questions are likely to make the cut of the eight to ten, and what questions are to be left behind? Let’s take a look at the odds a bit:

    Benghazi: this is on Foreign Policy, which no one cares about unless a Republican is in office and is in trouble. It was discussed at length at the start of the Vice Presidential debate last Thursday. It will probably be discussed at the last debate, which is to be Foreign Policy-focused. Odds of a question: 25-1. No way there’s a question in this debate. If you’re undecided (and I think that’s a requirement of the LVs selected by Gallup) you probably haven’t heard of Benghazi; if you have heard of Benghazi, it’s unlikely you’re still undecided.
    UPDATE: So, now that Hillary has taken responsibility for security at Benghazi, does this change this item? Minimally. As tomorrow may be the first time Benghazi goes A1 of the New York Times, it may be an ancillary, follow-up from Ms. Crowley. Maybe. But I’d still stick to my premise above: those undecided don’t have an opinion on Benghazi or don’t know about it.

    Afghanistan: As mentioned on Benghazi, a question here is to be expected, as though no one cares about Foreign Policy, a token question must be asked; and if a Foreign Policy question is asked, it will play to Republican weakness with the electorate. Biden’s line of leaving in 2014 without conditions played well with CNNs dials; expect a question here. Odds of a question: Even. 1-3 it’s from a wife/mother of someone deployed.

    “Women’s Issues”: And by this I mean access and the free, unadulterated supply of birth control, abortifacients, abortion services, tampons. Also the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. While abortion was discussed at the Vice Presidential debate, this topic space has been, to the media’s perspective, wildly underrepresented in the debates so far. All that focus on the economy. Debt. Things comparatively irrelevant to “all things vagine”.Moreover, there’s not a lot of room for this topic in a Foreign Policy debate (beyond UN funding and the Hyde Amendment. Odds of a question: 1-20 of one question; 1-4 of two questions. 2-1 of three or more. This is the vagina warriors’ last stand. Ever since George Stephanopolous’ strange questioning during the Republican Primary debates on the settled matter of Griswold v Connecticut, this area has been one to paint Republicans in a negative light. if Todd Akin is to be brought up, it will be by a questioner, not the President. Remember: these “town hall” formats are historically easy to have “uncertain” voters who are later found to be

  • campaign donors;
  • volunteers for a campaign; and/or
  • well-defined partisans (e.g., union members).
  • The economy/jobs:while an emphasis in the first debate, and a point of discussion in the second debate, total exclusion of questions on the economy and jobs, by far the most important topic in the public’s eyes, would show the moderator to be derelict in her duty. Besides, there’s fertile ground not yet covered by prior discussions. Odds of a question: 1-8. But the question will come from someone afraid of the loss of their job due to outsourcing/off shoring. The only way for the President to discuss Bain without looking like as much of an ass as Biden is for someone to bring it up for him. Same goes for 47 percent references though to a lesser degree.

    Taxes: In the media’s mind: God, haven’t we discussed taxes enough? Still, there’s always someone out there who might be offended by the Republican plan. Odds of a question: 2-1. Probably from a 40-something who is part of a married couple, earning around $150,000 a year, who doesn’t want to lose their mortgage exemption or their tax credit for student loan payments, whom the President can reassure while accusing Romney of wanting to maintain “tax cuts for the rich”.

    Debt/deficit: Again, media’s perspective: Enough! Of the core economic questions, the least likely to be asked as it is the “anti-ponytail-haired guy” question. For those who don’t remember, weren’t paying attention, or we’re too young at the time, the “ponytail-haired guy” references a question posed at the 1992 town hall debate where a 40-something guy with a ponytail asked a question of Clinton, Bush, and Perot, the essence of which was “what can you do for us, as children of a beneficent government”? Odds of a question: 5-1. Most of the questions at town halls focus on things which increase the debt, rather than decreasing it.

    Health Care: again, last chance to discuss. Got plenty of talk at the first debate, a little more at the VP debate. Always a topic in these town halls, because there’s always someone who is ill, or who knows someone who is ill. Odds of a question: 1-3 in general; 20-1 on HHS Mandate, or concerns over IPAB. Likely from someone who has, or has a family member who has pre-existing conditions. Unlikely to be from someone concerned about religious freedom. Also unlikely to be from someone who (a) had breast cancer and is worried about loss of early screening, or (b) worries about end-of-life benefits. No mention of “Liverpool Care Pathway” will be made.

    Medicare/Social Security: Questions here are popular, as (per Debt/deficit above) they play to what our benevolent government will grant unto us. Odds of a question: 1-2 on one; Even on two. Figure most likely from some about 50-54, who is “concerned” about being cut out of benefits under Ryan’s plan.

    Education: Romney’s discussion of de-funding Big Bird certainly raised the cackles of the left, didn’t he? This, and a general lack of discussion on student debt issues is likely to create need of a question centered on one of the classical “I attended a $20,000 a year liberal arts school, can’t find a job in my major of medieval lesbian basket-weaving, and need help with my debt” questions. Odds of a question: 2-1. Likely to be from an educator worried about loss of money for schools, or a student worried over Pell Grants or student loans. Less likely to be someone indignant at the loss of funds for Big Bird.

    Random: Guarantee there’ll be a question on a non-issue that everyone looks at and goes, “why did that get brought up when we could’ve discussed Benghazi/the Debt/the deficit!!” Odds of a question: Lock.

    So there you have it. In a nine-question debate I see:

  • One on abortion, focused on costs (namely, free for poor women);
  • One on Birth Control, Sandra Fluke and/or Todd Akin;
  • One on the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan;
  • One on the evils of outsourcing and companies making profits;
  • One on the maintenance of “good loopholes” in the tax code;
  • One on pre-existing conditions;
  • One on the loss of Medicare or Social Security benefits posed by the Ryan Plan;
  • One on money for schools or student loan debt (if that hasn’t been addressed already as part of the “good loopholes” in the tax question; and
  • One question out of left (or right) field: perhaps on the Fed (to represent a random undecided Ron Paul voter.
  • We’ll track tomorrow how well we guesstimated.

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    One thought on “The questions that remain unasked

    1. Pingback: On the second debate: questions | Blessed Blasphemy

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