Moderator-chosen debate topics ignore top voter priorities like the economy and crime

The Trump campaign said the selected topics are further evidence of anti-Trump bias by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Published: October 21, 2020 6:57pm

Updated: October 22, 2020 7:16am

Based on a range of polling results, the topics for Thursday evening's presidential debate chosen by the evening's moderator seem to align more closely with the priorities of the national political media elite than with those of the American electorate.

The topics selected ignore what surveys show is Americans' top priority: the economy. The moderator, NBC's Kristen Welker, also omitted another issue of acute public concern — crime, or law and order — and elevated the issue of climate change to a position of centrality that it does not occupy for the voting public

The Trump campaign said the selected debate topics are further evidence of biased moves by the Commission on Presidential Debates to harm President Trump's reelection chances.

On Friday, the commission announced the six topics for the second and final presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden: "Fighting COVID-19," "American Families," "Race in America," "Climate Change," "National Security" and "Leadership." 

The most striking omission was the economy, given the abundance of polling data indicating the issue is at the forefront of voter concerns in the 2020 presidential race.  

Recent polling from Gallup gave registered voters a list of 16 issues to rank in order of importance for their vote. A recent Pew Research Center survey employed a similar methodology with 12 issues. Both surveys show the economy topped the list for voters in importance, and climate change ranks near the bottom, at the 11th of 12 spots in the Pew survey and 11 of 16 among the issues polled by Gallup.

September polling from the respected Kaiser Family Foundation found that the economy has now secured a spot as the top issue in the 2020 election with one-third of registered voters (32%) saying it will be "the most important issue in deciding their vote for president." Climate change was not included in the survey.

September polling from the Just the News Daily Poll with Scott Rasmussen found the economy topped the issue list for likely American voters among nine options given. 

The other priority voting issue ignored in setting the debate's priorities was crime and law and order, which mostly ranks higher among voter concerns in the polls reviewed here than race and civil rights, which is a debate topic.

In the Just the News poll, "Law and Order" ranked third in importance to voters (just one point behind "Healthcare"), with 16% of respondents citing the issue. Kaiser found "Criminal justice and policing" ranked second, with 17% naming the issue as their "most important." "Race relations" was fourth, with 14%. Pew found "Violent crime" ranked fifth in importance, ahead of "Race and ethnic inequality," which ranked eighth. However, Gallup respondents ranked "Race relations" higher (6th place) than "Crime" (8th place).

"All the issues voters care about are places where President Donald Trump has succeeded," Hogan Gidley, national press secretary for the Trump campaign told "Just the News AM" television show. "People's lives have been improved by Donald Trump's policies — regardless of race, religion, color or creed. You don't have to guess what Donald Trump would do with the economy. We've seen record high employment for African-American, Asian American, Hispanic Americans, women employed at record numbers. We saw more jobs than there were people to fill them." 

The Biden campaign did not respond to request for comment from Just the News.

Gidley also repeated the campaign's concern that the predominant theme of the debate, based on historical precedents, was supposed to be foreign policy, which was instead downgraded to just one topic among six and more narrowly focused on "National Security."

"You also notice they took away the topic of foreign policy? Of course they would," Gidley said. "President Trump has a record of success there too, already. He's already been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize multiple times because of his work in the Middle East, something that Joe Biden couldn't have thought about ever accomplishing. And all the experts told Donald Trump he couldn't get it done. He got two peace deals. He's drawing down troops from our foreign wars."

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