What to Watch For: The Fourth Democratic Primary Debate

Amanda Hunter | Oct 7, 2019


As we head into the fourth democratic primary debate of the cycle, here’s what I’ll be looking for:

History in Progress: A record number of women on the debate stage

We’ve heard a lot about the record number of candidates that will take the stage next week – 12 in total, but that’s not the only record that will be broken that night. We’ll now have four women on the debate stage at the same time: Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. This breaks the record for the most women ever seen on the same presidential primary debate stage. Whatever happens on Tuesday night, all four of the women will have made history.

Claiming a debate moment

A successful debate performance is about creating memorable moments. A memorable debate moment can be a game changer when it comes to fundraising and support. Our recent Gender on the Ballot electability study showed voters believe a strong debate showing is a signal of electability. With twelve candidates scheduled to be on the same stage, getting a word in will be difficult, much less creating a memorable moment. We know from our research that women have to be careful when it comes to interrupting opponents. Because our research shows women pay a higher price for going negative, attacking an opponent is a risky way to get attention.

Will “women’s issues” finally get some attention?

I know, I know, we say it every time, but for the past several debates there haven’t been questions about paid family leave, child care, reproductive rights, or equal pay. Despite the fact a number of candidates have policy positions on these issues and discuss them on the stump. Although candidates have touched on some of these topics in their debate answers, we haven’t seen many formal questions. In fact, of the 461 total questions that were asked across the June, July, and September debates, only 19 were about women’s issues. That’s just 4%. Will this finally be the time? And in order to ensure a truly equitable discussion, candidates of all genders should answer questions on these topics. The New York Times’ National Editor, Marc Lacey, who is moderating the debate, is asking for suggested questions here, so you can submit your own ideas.

We wish there were more women moderators

The co-moderators are CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, and Marc Lacey from the New York Times. All fine journalists. But what if we had more than one woman moderating? And a woman of color? And what if we had all women moderating?

Follow along with us next week on Twitter for our real time analysis of gender on the debate stage, and stay tuned for our post-debate question recap to see how these trends played out.

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