Why Are Audiences Allowed at Candidate Debates?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Listening to the raucous audience frequently interfering at last night’s Los Angeles District Attorney election debate rekindled a question I’ve thought about before– why are audiences permitted at major political debates—including presidential debates?

There are many news accounts on the issues raised and the candidates’ responses at the L.A. debate last night presented by radio station KPCC and the Los Angeles Times, a couple of which you can find here and here. But let’s think about allowing audiences into major debates which too often opens the door for cheerleading and disruption.

The idea behind debates are for candidates to express their views and discuss policies so voters will know where they intend to take their office if elected. That too often gets overshadowed by unnecessary and even orchestrated audience interference.

The protests and most (but not all) of the chanting and cheering yesterday were aimed at incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey. The moderator representing KPCC, Senior Politics Reporter Libby Denkmann, tried to calm the audience time and again, saying it’s understandable that passions are involved.

How about calling the repeated disruptors rude and admonishing them for the interruptions? I suppose that is not apropos in this day and age. But there are plenty of opportunities to protest within the political process. And, the potential for protests to go beyond shouting at a debate gathering is a danger. At one point last night, a screaming protestor approached the stage causing a team of security members to come out on to the stage and hover near the candidates.

Protestors see their chants as freedom of speech and expression. In reality, the protestors at such settings are practicing the opposite—the chants are intended to drown out the speech of others–a candidate on stage.

I also find the cheering at presidential debates distracting. Of course, advocates are going to cheer on their candidate. What does it prove?

Some might argue that seeing how a candidate reacts in these circumstances reveals a little of how they respond under pressure. Okay, that’s a point, but for the most part we learn less about dueling ideas from the candidates vying to lead.

This sort of audience “participation” is not new of course, but in this day of modern technology debates can be performed without an audience and without interruption for the benefit of voters who have important decisions to make. The Kennedy-Nixon debates could be a model.

I’m sure many will disagree with this position—loudly.

(Top of the page picture credit to Courthouse News)

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