When candidates decline to participate | Guest opinion
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Guest opinion

When candidates decline to participate

Since its founding 1920, the League of Women Voters has held candidate debates to inform and educate voters. This is part of the League's mission to encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government. In 1992, state and local Leagues of Women Voters sponsored more debates than any other organization in the United States. Candidate debates have become an expected part of political campaigns.

"When candidates decline to participate in a televised debate in Tucson, it shows disrespect for Pima County and its voters," said the League's voter service chairwoman, Sue DeArmond in a recent Arizona Daily Star news article.

Debates have become institutionalized as part of the political process. It is disheartening when candidates do not participate in debates. Who loses out? The voter.

Often times the only way voters get to "learn" about the candidates is through brief TV commercials, slick campaign mailers, and 15-second segments on news shows. It is no surprise that voters feel that their votes do not count! The electorate should be angry that they do not have the opportunity to view their candidates on TV in public debates … and, the electorate has now become disengaged from the political process.

No matter how you gather information about candidates - Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which candidate's views on the issues do I agree with the most?
  • Who ran the fairest campaign?
  • Which candidate demonstrated the most knowledge on the issues?
  • Which candidate has the leadership qualities I am looking for?

So in lieu of candidate forums or debates, what can voters do to be informed about the candidates who want to represent them?

1. Decide what you are looking for in a candidate. Look at the positions candidates takes on issues and the leadership qualities and experience they would bring to the office. Your first step in picking a candidate is to decide the issues you care most about and the qualities you want in a leader.

2. Find out about the candidates. Pick a campaign to follow. Highly visible campaigns (congressional, governor, mayor or City Council) are easy to follow. Find out all the eligible candidates that will appear on the ballot including minor party and/or independent candidates.

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3. Gather materials about the candidates. Collect any records you can find on the candidates. Call campaign headquarters and watch the news media. In a local race, interviews with the candidates can be helpful. For incumbents, take a look at their voting records on issues that are important to you.

4. Evaluate candidates' stands on issues. Do the campaign materials give you an overall impression of the candidates? What specific conclusions can you draw about the candidates' stands on issues?

5. Learn about the candidates' leadership abilities. Deciding if candidates will be good leaders is difficult. How can you know if someone will be honest, open or able to act under pressure if elected to office? Here are some ways to read between the lines as you evaluate the candidates' leadership qualities:

a. Look at the candidates' background and their experience. How prepared are they for the job?

b. Observe the candidates' campaigns. Do they give speeches to different groups – even those groups that may disagree with the candidates' views on issues? Do they accept invitations to debate? Do the campaigns emphasize media events, where the candidates can be seen but not heard?

6. Learn how other people view the candidate. Learn what other people think about the candidates. Their opinions can help clarify your own views.

a. Seek the opinions of others in your community who keep track of political campaigns. Interview three people (not family members), such as a librarian, store owner, neighbor or politically active volunteer, to find out which candidate they support and why.

b. Learn about endorsements. This is a way for interest groups and organizations to give a "stamp of approval" to a candidate. Endorsements provide clues to the issues a candidate supports. Find out what these groups stand for and find out why they are endorsing this candidate.

c. Look into campaign contributions. Where do the candidates get the funds to finance their campaigns? Do they use their own money or raise funds from a few wealthy donors, from many small contributors or from political action committees? Many types of information about campaign contributions must be reported to the government and are watched by the press. Check the newspaper for stories on campaign finance or go online to www.opensecrets.org.

d. Throughout the campaign, opinion polls will be taken by a variety of groups to evaluate public support for the different candidates. Polls reveal who is leading at a certain point in the race. As you read the polls, ask these questions: Who sponsored the poll? Was the poll produced by a trusted and independent group? Were all the figures released, even unfavorable data? What kinds of questions were asked? Were they slanted or unbiased? How were respondents selected – randomly or in such a way to include all segments of the population? How many people were included in the poll sample?

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Yes, these questions should be answered with debates. Voters have the right to see the candidates perform under pressure, address the issues important to their constituents, talk about how they will make decisions - all in a live forum.

It is difficult to move beyond a candidate's image to the substance of a campaign without debates. If candidates agree to televised debates, then the democratic process will work. If candidates do not debate, then there is little if anything a voter can do to try and separate the fiction from facts. Without debates sponsored by nonpartisan entities such as the League of Women Voters, voters lose their power. Remember, democracy is not a spectator sport.


  • Robyn Prud'homme-Bauer, president, League of Women Voters of Arizona
  • Judy Moll, president, League of Women Voters Greater Tucson
  • Barbara Robertston, president, League of Women Voters Metro Phoenix
  • Jean Darnell, president, League of Women Voters Northwest Maricopa County
  • Terri Farneti, president, League of Women Voters Central Yavapai County
  • Ellie Bauer, president, League of Women Voters Greater Verde Valley
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1 comment on this story

Oct 21, 2014, 2:33 pm
-0 +2

When a candidate refuses to debate…to me, that’s not automatic grounds for dismissal. But, said candidate would have to do something pretty spectacular after that to get my vote.

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