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Town Hall: Political Scientists Look Toward the Presidential Debates

With the first presidential debate rapidly approaching, many questions are zipping through voters’ minds. What is the most important topic for them this election? How will they even manage to vote safely during a pandemic? And, if they could, what question would they ask at a town hall debate? We reached out to three of our political science authors to find out which question they would like to ask the candidates.

Hahrie Han, coauthor of Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in the Twenty-First Century

One of the greatest challenges in contemporary politics is the broken link between people and government. Even though democracy is supposed to be “of, by, and for” the people, what we find is that government is often unresponsive both to public opinion and people’s activism. How do the candidates think about their own accountability to the public? I would ask, “Elected officials often seem to use people as props instead of being willing to enter into a true relationship of mutual accountability. At best, elected officials treat the public merely as data points for information and input. What mechanisms would you create to ensure that the people affected by the policies you proposed had a voice over the shape and design of those policies?”

LaFleur Stephens-Dougan, author of Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics

On several occasions, President Trump has argued that he has “done the most good for Black Americans than any other president.” Similarly, former Vice-President Biden gone as far as to say, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump then you ain’t Black.” Yet, in the wake of unrest around police brutality, both candidates have also shifted much of their rhetoric to “law and order,” an issue that is racialized and often plays to dangerous stereotypes of Black criminality. Therefore, I would ask, “How do you plan to fulfill your stated commitment to African Americans while also appealing to White suburban voters?”

David Primo, coauthor of Campaign Finance and American Democracy: What the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters

There is a long history of elected officials using the power of government to stifle the speech of political opponents. Vice President Biden, you have proposed to eliminate all private donations to campaigns, among other campaign finance reforms. President Trump, you have proposed to change social media regulations in ways that are likely to reduce speech on those platforms. These proposals reflect your concerns that some voices are not being heard in politics. Why do you believe that the solution for amplifying those underrepresented voices is to limit—some would say silence—the voices of others?

All three books are available on our website. And most important, don’t forget to vote!