Commission On Presidential Debates Sets Schedule For General Election Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates has released the schedule and criteria for the General Election debates. As usual, the criteria are heavily biased in favor of the major party candidates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates as announced the location and schedule for the 2020 General Election Debates:

The nonpartisan commission that governs presidential debates announced on Friday the dates and sites for the three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate during the 2020 general election.

All four debates will be held at universities, as has been recent custom.

The presidential debates will kick off Sept. 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. (The campus is adjacent to South Bend, Ind., where Pete Buttigieg, one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination, is mayor.)

The others will be held Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville.

There will also be a Vice-Presidential debate on October 7, 2020 which will be held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The Commission also announced the criteria for an invitation to the debates, which are basically the same as in the recent past. First, the candidate must establish they are eligible to serve as President or Vice-President pursuant to the criteria set forth in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. Specifically, of course, this means being at least 35 years of age, a Natural Born Citizen of the United States and a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years, and “otherwise eligible under the Constitution,” which presumably refers to the bar on serving more than two terms pursuant to the 22nd Amendment. Additionally, the candidates must have achieved ballot access in a sufficient number of states to at least theoretically win 270 Electoral Votes. Finally, there are the polling criteria:

The CPD’s third criterion requires that the candidate have a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate as determined by five national public opinion polling organizations selected by CPD, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination. CPD will rely on the advice of a recognized expert or experts in public opinion polling in determining the polls it will rely upon. The polls to be relied upon will be selected based on the quality of the methodology employed, the reputation of the polling organizations and the frequency of the polling conducted. CPD will identify the selected polling organizations well in advance of the time the criteria are applied.

These criteria have been debated in the past, and have been the subject of litigation that ultimately went nowhere in each of the past two elections by Gary Johnson, who was the nominee of the Libertarian Party in 2012 and 2016. In all such cases, courts have rejected the arguments made by the third-party plaintiffs on the ground that the Commission is a private organization. While this is essentially true, it ought to be taken into account that the commission is also effectively under the control of the Republican and Democratic parties and that it is their interest to limit debate participation.

In an ideal world, the criteria would be more open to third parties, at least at the start. Obviously, the criteria that require a candidate to be constitutionally eligible and on the ballot in enough states to at least theoretically win 270 Electoral Votes are acceptable. Beyond, that, though, it strikes me that they ought to be more open when it comes to polling, perhaps using a sliding scale for each of the three debates. For example, for the first debate, the cutoff point for inclusion should be something close to 5% to 7.5%. For the second debate, the criteria could be raised to 10%, and for the final debate they could go with the 15% level. Since the Vice-Presidential debate is scheduled for a time close to the first debate, then the rule should be that the running mate of any candidate that qualified for the first debate should be eligible to participate. This would give third-party candidates who are more than just under 2% also-rans the chance to have their voices heard by the American public, which strikes me as being a net positive even if it ultimately the top two candidates are the real contenders for victory.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    I wonder if Tiny will decline to participate. Assuming he beats the impeachment rap.

  2. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Of course he’ll decline.

  3. June Genis says:

    Unfortunately not only are the poll thresholds too high they often select polls which don’t even include 3rd party candidates. And if they do it is often in a prejudicial form such as first asking about a head to head of only the D and R and then including another candidate in a second question. That immediately presents the other candidate as less legitimate that the D and R. Like all statistics you can get any result you want from a poll by structuring it properly. Polls should never be used to decide inclusion, only whether the candidate is on enough ballots to win in the Electoral Collage.

  4. Kathy says:

    The only thing worse than hypocrisy is pretending openness to cover for hypocrisy.

    So they should just say “We’re only having the candidates of the two parties in the duopoly.”