Gender on the Debate Stage: February 25th Numbers

Betsy Fischer Martin | Feb 26, 2020


Less than one week after the previous debate, seven Democratic presidential contenders, including two of the three remaining female candidates, took to the stage at The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina for the 10th primary debate of the season.

And while the debate took place in one of the most charming Southern cities, it was considerably lacking in pleasantries or decorum. Headlines the next morning ranged from “Democrats Gang up on Sanders” to “Combative Mood at Messy Forum.”  The loud booing and cheering from the local party faithful in the audience also didn’t help matters.

In the six days since the Nevada debate, one more candidate qualified for the debate stage, with Tom Steyer making the cut at the very last minute after a final DNC-approved South Carolina poll was released showing him at 18 percent, 4 points above the 12 percent threshold.

The debate, hosted co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, ran 2 hours and featured a total of 96 rapid-fire questions and rebuttal prompts. Warren and Klobuchar received 28 percent of the questions from the CBS News debate moderators Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King, Margaret Brennan, Major Garrett and Bill Whitaker.

Of the 27 questions and prompts that went to women candidates:

In addition to criticism directed at debate moderators for not maintaining more control over the evening, CBS News was criticized for some of their editorial decision-making, namely not raising the issue of the cornonavirus pandemic until well-after a question about a municipal ban on sodas. Just like in Nevada last week, questions about issues central to the lives of women and families were only brought up in the context of a question to Bloomberg about allegations of sexual harassment/hostile work environment in his company.

One gender related promise to keep note of in a potential Biden presidency – his pledge in the final minutes of the debate to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court if he is elected.

Of the 96 total questions and rebuttal prompts, the main topics covered were:

* including the question to Bloomberg about sexual harassment allegations
** Final question to all candidates

In terms of speaking time, the two candidates who received the most incoming fire from the rest of the field, Sanders and Bloomberg, had the most airtime. Not surprising, since moderators generally let a candidate respond when “name-checked” by an opponent.

Candidate Speaking Time Chart

Source: New York Times

The next debate will be held after both Super Tuesday on March 3rd and Junior Tuesday on March 10th so we can expect the field to be smaller as candidates who perform poorly at the ballot box drop-out of the race.  The remaining contenders will reconvene in Phoenix, Arizona at the debate co-hosted by CNN, Univision, and CHC Bold.

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