I can’t talk about the Democratic debates because my deadline for this article comes just before they started on Wednesday. Still, there are some things to contemplate after you have seen the first debate and before you see the second.
I’m not much for predicting the line of questioning nor the answers that each candidate will give. All will try to make a splash, that is the only sure bet about the debates. How do they do that though?
One assumes that each will want to attach themselves to at least one issue and make it their own. But there are at least eight major issue categories available. So, which do each candidate emphasize?
The Washington Post wrote an article setting out which “Issues Candidates are Running on According to Social Media,” on June 24. Let’s assume the candidates will emphasize those issues they have used most so far on their social media posts. We can then see how to evaluate them in the debates.
I’ll try to simplify by first naming the candidates and note a shorthand ID. In their order on the stage Wednesday: de Blasio-dB; Ryan-R; Castro-C; Booker-Bo; Warren-W; O’Rourke-O; Klobuchar-K; Gabbard-Ga; Inslee-I; Delaney-D.
Thursday’s alignment: Williamson-W; Hickenlooper-Hi; Yang-Y; Buttigieg-Bu; Biden-Bi; (lots of Bs running); Sanders-Sa; Harris-Ha; Gillibrand-Gi; Bennet-Be; Swalwell-Sw.
Now the issue areas: Note that some of the candidates do not emphasize any issue and may not be listed on any, even all, the issues. I’m trying to report the issues and the candidates with high interest in those issues. When candidates were not mentioned, their interest was low — less than 10-15 percent of social issue space.
Health Care: This is a well-mentioned issue ranging from 30-40 percent for those in the high group to a couple with very low mention. The high group features De, Gi, W, K, R, M, and Sw. Note Ga and Bi hold up the low end of mentions of health care.
Climate Change: This is I’s issue. … He mentioned it 55 percent of the time. Bi and Be were next and all the rest came in below 15 percent mentions.
Gun Control: Bo, Hi, and Sw gave time to this issue but the rest had minimal mention of gun control. Too sensitive an issue I guess.
Immigration: Not surprisingly the Texas duo C and O have been hot on this issue. Everyone else had minimal to say on the issue on social media. Sad.
Economic Inequality: The two who are big on the issue with specific remedies are Sa, and Y. Yang wants to give every adult $1,000 a month, Sanders has a variety of remedies to the inequality in economic well-being. dB is the only other candidate above 12 percent mentions of the issue.
Social Justice: Bu, Gi, and W are the only ones with more than 15 percent mentioning. Don’t know where Sa is on this issue, you’d think he would be on top of it.
Corporate Power: Bu and Sa tip their oars into the issue a bit, but the rest are lower than 14 percent or nonexistent.
Foreign Policy: Ga hits this issue with all she’s got, a 70 percent mentioning. Bu also has more to say on the issues than any other candidate. Bo had no mentions of foreign policy at all.
Some of the candidates were consistently in the low percentages on all or most of the issues. Most are still looking for the issue(s) with which to hang their candidacy upon. Events move swiftly, so some issues will rise in importance as the campaign goes on, and some will fade. The candidates will, no doubt, respond accordingly.
For example, the Iranian foreign policy issue raised its ugly head just before these debates, so surely some will jump on it. This issue is tough because things could change swiftly and most candidates have no experience in foreign affairs and find it difficult to be cogent on the subject
It will be interesting to see how the candidates deal with the issue areas highlighted. … What will they bring up? … What will they respond to? … Who will look, well, presidential?
Richard Fulton is an emeritus professor of political science.