What is the Commission on Presidential Debates?

The entire country watches a presidential debate: the iconic moments, the gaffes, and everything in-between. The organization behind it all? The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). From selecting questions, training moderators, and considering basic procedural factors  (such as whether or not to allow audiences), the CPD labors behind the scenes to ensure that presidential debates run smoothly, thus appropriately highlighting candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and allowing voters to make a more informed decision.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 under the joint sponsorship of the Democratic and Republican national political parties. In 1987, Paul G. Kirk and Frank J. Fahrenkopf recognized that debates were being poorly run, didn’t provide any useful information about the candidates to constituents, and were oftentimes were inaccessible to voters. Before the Commission on Presidential Debates, constituents had a lack of knowledge surrounding the dates and times of debates, and due to the inefficient record keeping, often were not aware of what happened during the debate.

Kirk and Fahrenkopf then created the CPD to ensure that there was an organized and standardized way to run debates, as well as to make them accessible to the public with their televising and transcribing of the debates. Since then, the CPD has sponsored and produced debates for the United States vice-presidential and presidential candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates has also worked to increase the education of voters surrounding national debates, such as templates and information regarding how to form your own watch group or how to get involved in a current debate.

Here at the Commission on Local Debates, we recognize the important work that the CPD has done on the presidential level, and we think that this standardization and organization of debates needs to happen on the local level as well. That’s why we’re working to create standards and tools to host debates, thus making those debates accessible to all constituents. This way, citizens are able to be informed about who is running to represent them and make the best decision possible for their community.

CLD has gone one step further to ensure representation and fairness in debates: we have established a rigorous question selection process, so that constituents will be able to see what candidates care about, and what they will do to help advance their communities; we work with community partners at the county level, who know and understand the issues their communities are facing; we utilize an innovative procedural process, where the answer order for candidates varies from question to question, so as not to give one candidate leverage over another; and finally, within our national, state, and county boards, no single party will ever dominate in representation, and those with no party affiliation, or affiliation with a third party, will always have representation.

Our nation has gained a lot from the standardization and accessibility of presidential and vice-presidential debates, and here at CLD we are working to expand this to all other elections. On presidential election years, the whole country gets involved in watching presidential debates. The rest of the time, why not get involved with the Commission on Local Debates at your county level!