News Release

* Dubious Debates * Dubious Polls


Farah, founder and executive director of Open Debates, was featured on Friday’s “Now with Bill Moyers” [see:]. He said today: “Senator John Kerry and President George W. Bush promised the American people a series of engaging presidential debates, but the major party candidates’ lawyers have drafted a binding contract that virtually eliminates spontaneity and confrontation from these public forums and excludes all third-party voices. Much of the fault lies with the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a creation of the Republican and Democratic parties that submits to the joint demands of the Republican and Democratic candidates, at the expense of voter education.” Author of the book No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Candidates Secretly Control the Presidential Debates, Farah added:

“The CPD, which claims to have ‘no relationship with any political party or candidate,’ was created by the Republican and Democratic parties for the Republican and Democratic parties. In 1986, the two parties’ national committees ratified an agreement ‘to take over the presidential debates,’ and eighteen months later, then-Republican Party chair Frank Fahrenkopf and then-Democratic Party chair Paul Kirk incorporated the CPD. Mr. Kirk and Mr. Fahrenkopf — now the nation’s leading gambling lobbyist — are still co-chairs of the debate commission, and every four years, the CPD deceptively awards control of the presidential debates to the Republican and Democratic nominees.

“This year, the Kerry and Bush campaigns drafted a 32-page Memorandum of Understanding that dictates precisely how the pseudo-debates will be run — from who gets to participate, to who will ask the questions, to the temperature in the auditoriums. The contract prohibits the candidates from talking to each other, requires the pre-screening of town hall questions by the moderator, severely limits the candidates’ response times, and excludes all third-party challengers. Masquerading as a nonpartisan sponsor, the CPD will obediently implement every stipulation of the debate contract, and the result will be a series of glorified, bipartisan news conferences rather than actual debates.

“Voters want unscripted and confrontational debates that force the candidates to answer tough questions, and voters want to hear from popular third-party challengers; according to a new Zogby poll, fifty-seven percent of likely voters want to see Ralph Nader included in the presidential debates. The blatant partisanship of the CPD at the expense of voter education compelled a U.S. District Court on August 12 to order the Federal Election Commission to investigate the CPD.”
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Author of the article “A Better Gauge of Public Opinion?” which appears in today’s Dallas Morning News, Husseini said today: “With all the polling going on, it’s remarkable that apparently not a single poll is asking whom people want to be president. Virtually every poll has a structure like this: ‘If the next presidential election were held today between George W. Bush for the Republicans, John Kerry for the Democrats and Ralph Nader as an independent, for whom would you most likely vote?’ Many people will reflexively say ‘Bush’ simply because they don’t want Kerry, or ‘Kerry’ because they don’t want Bush — even if their first choice is Nader or some other third party candidate.”

Husseini added: “Instead of really focusing on people’s opinions, polls focus on the action of voting in a hypothetical context — if the ‘election were being held today’ — when we know it isn’t. Pollsters apparently do that because they assume they should be predicting how the election will turn out, rather than offering a clear picture of what the public is thinking. A real ‘public opinion’ poll might ask: ‘Regardless of his chances of winning, which of the following candidates do you most want to be president?’ Another way would be to use Instant Runoff Voting: ‘Please rank the following in order of whom you would personally want to be president.’ By asking the questions they do — and by not asking these other questions — pollsters are in effect limiting the choices of the public. Polls should be a method for the public to articulate its desires rather than a tool of pundits or parties. Currently, polls solidify the status of the ‘major candidates’ and reduce citizens to little more than spectators at a horse race, or gamblers.

“These issues are key because of the role that polls play in our presidential election. For example, the Commission on Presidential Debates states that it will only allow candidates who achieve 15 percent in ‘national public opinion polls’ into its debates. But the current polls are not ‘public opinion polls.’ If the CPD genuinely wanted to fulfill its own criteria, it would rely on polls that actually ask the U.S. public who it wants to be president.” Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy.
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 332-5055; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167