FAQs about the CPD, the presidential debates, and Fix the Debates

When are the presidential debates?

The “official” presidential debates organized by the CPD are on September 6th, October 4th (vice presidential), October 9th, and October 19th. (Many other debates will be held between “third party” and independent candidates. Dates TBA.) More info on debate dates and locations.

One presidential debate between independent and third party candidates has already been held in January 2016, by Independent Debate 2016.


Who runs the presidential debates?

Organizations that hold presidential debates include Free and Equal Elections Foundation, Independent Voter Project, Independent Debate 2016, and the Commission on Presidential Debates.


When did the CPD take over the presidential debates?

In 1987, The League of Women Voters, who had sponsored the presidential debates for several election cycles, withdrew their sponsorship, objecting to the “memorandum of understanding” that the two major-party campaigns agreed to, which strictly dictated the terms and proceedings. Upon their formal withdrawal in October 1988, they issued the following statement explaining their reasoning:

The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates…because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.

Taking advantage of this turn of events, the heads of the Republican and Democratic parties formed “The Commission on Presidential Debates”, which sponsored the 1988 debates, and has sponsored all the debates between Republican and Democratic nominees for presidents since then. (However, as noted above, they are not the only organization that conducts presidential debates.)


What are the criteria for inclusion in the presidential debates?

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which produces the most widely-seen debates, has the most restrictive criteria, designed to exclude most third party and independent candidates. (The founders of the CPD said when it was launched that they believed third party candidates should be excluded.) Aside from constitutional eligibility and sufficient ballot inclusion to potentially win a majority of Electoral College votes, the CPD requires candidates to reach 15% in five different polls of the CPD’s choosing, in the time period immediately preceding the debates.

(NOTE: This polling standard was originally set at 5%, but the CPD discovered that was too low to effectively exclude alternative viewpoints in 1992, when businessman Ross Perot attained enough support to win inclusion in that years debates. His appearances there propelled him to even standing in the polls with Bill Clinton and George Bush, and for the first time in generations, a third party candidate was considered a real contender for the election. Despite several perceived missteps in the campaign, Perot still secured 19% (vs Bush’s 37% and Clinton’s 43%) and in many ways set the agenda and the major issues for the 1992 race.
After that, the CPD changed their criteria to be 15% in the polls, which was effective in excluding Perot from the debates in 1996, as he was polling around 8% as the debates were approaching. They have kept the 15% standard–and there have been only two candidates in their debates–since then.)

Most other debate organizations are much more inclusive than the Commission on Presidential Debates. As an example, Free and Equal Elections Foundation’s debates were open to all candidates who were on enough ballots to potentially win a majority of Electoral College votes.

It's not democracy without open debates.