Gender on the Debate Stage: October Numbers

Betsy Fischer Martin | Oct 16, 2019


For a full recap of the October Westerville, Ohio debate numbers, head here.

With the addition of Tulsi Gabbard to the list of qualifying candidates, last night’s CNN/NYT Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio featured a record number of female presidential candidates on the same stage.  Gabbard joined eight men and the three other female candidates who faced off last month in Houston: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar.

The spotlight in this debate fell squarely on front-runner Elizabeth Warren—she received the most incoming fire from her opponents and, according to CNN, had the most airtime, clocking in at 22:58.

In terms of questions, a total of 141 rapid-fire questions and rebuttal prompts were directed at the candidates on the stage over the course of three hours. 53 (38%) of the questions posed went to the four women on stage.

Of the 53 questions and prompts that went to women candidates:

As an aside, new entrant into the debates California billionaire and self-funder Tom Steyer, who spent $47 million in the first three months of his campaign, had the least amount of speaking time at 7:12.  This made for an expensive entry ticket of almost $108,800 per second of airtime.

After six debates with scant attention devoted to topics particularly concerning to women, like reproductive rights, child care, pay equity, paid family leave, maternal mortality, caregiving, violence against women and sexual harassment, early in the evening Kamala Harris (followed by Cory Booker) pointedly called out absence of substantive questions about reproductive health care.

HARRIS: This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word, with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today. And it’s outrageous ….


BOOKER: I’m having déjà vu all over again. And I’m having déjà vu all over again because we have another health care debate, and we’re not talking about the clear and existential threat in America that we’re in a state that has had two Planned Parenthoods close. We are seeing all over this country women’s reproductive rights under attack. And God bless Kamala, but you know what? Women should not be the only ones taking up this cause and this fight.

With Harris and Booker both flagging this notable absence, debate moderator Erin Burnett of CNN assured the candidates and audience that the topic of reproductive rights would be forthcoming: “We are going to get to that issue later on tonight.”

Making good on their promise, the moderators, in the last 45 minutes of the three-hour debate, asked the candidates about efforts in some states (like Ohio) to ban abortion after as early as six weeks of pregnancy. A total of 10 minutes was spent on this line of questioning, with all candidates except O’Rourke, Sanders, Steyer and Yang weighing in.

Overall of the 141 total questions and prompts, the main topics covered were:

The next debate will be held on November 20th in the Atlanta area, and will be hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post. With more stringent debate entry criteria, the field is likely to be smaller than last night.  So far, only eight candidates have qualified, including only two of the five female candidates still running: Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

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