Questions asked during the presidential debates

Of all the presidential debates, the only one I actually watched was yesterday’s debate for third-party candidates moderated by Larry King. That debate touched on several topics that are extremely important to me. I thought I’d go back and see how the debates between the money candidates stacked up by comparison.

I couldn’t find a simple list of the questions asked in each debate, so I went to the transcripts and pulled out the questions myself. For the purpose of this comparison, I was more interested in what the candidates were asked, and not what their answers were.

To find the questions, I used transcripts from The Washington Post. They’re linked in the headings below.

First Debate: Domestic Issues

  1. How would you go about creating new jobs?
  2. How would you tackle the deficit problem?
  3. What is your position on Social Security and entitlements?
  4. What is your view on the level of federal regulation of the economy?
  5. What is your position on health care and the Affordable Care Act?
  6. What is the mission of the federal government?
  7. What is the role the federal government in education?
  8. What would you do about partisan gridlock?

Second Debate: “Town Hall”-Style Questions

  1. What should be done about the lack of job prospects for new college graduates?
  2. What about the long-term unemployed?
  3. Do you agree with the energy secretary that it’s not the Energy Department’s job to help lower gas prices?
  4. If you reduce tax credits and deductions to make up for lost revenue due to tax cuts, which would you reduce, and how would that affect the middle class?
  5. What will you do about income inequality between women and men?
  6. Governor Romney, how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?
  7. President Obama, what have you accomplished to earn my vote again in 2012?
  8. What do you plan to do concerning immigrants without green cards who are currently productive members of society?
  9. Who denied extra security for our embassy in Libya, and why?
  10. Does the buck stop with the Secretary of State in terms of the assassination?
  11. What will you do to limit the availability of assault weapons?
  12. What plans do you have to bring jobs back to the US from overseas?
  13. How do you convince a company to bring manufacturing jobs back here from China, where labor is so much cheaper?
  14. What do you believe is the biggest misconception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?

Third Debate: Foreign Policy

  1. Concerning Libya, what happened and why?
  2. Should we change our strategy in Syria?
  3. What is America’s role in the world?
  4. Governor, you say you want to increase military spending. Where would you get the money?
  5. Would you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States?
  6. There are reports that Iran and the United States have agreed to talk about Iran’s nuclear program. Is this true, and what would you agree to?
  7. What would you do if Israel decided to attack Iran?
  8. If it’s obvious the Afghans can’t handle their own security by our withdrawal deadline, what will you do?
  9. Is it time for us to stop supporting Pakistan?
  10. What is your position on the use of drones?
  11. What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?
  12. By labeling China a currency manipulator, isn’t there a danger of starting a trade war?

In total, the money candidates got to answer 34 questions. By comparison, here are the 6 questions answered by the third-party candidates. As no transcript seems to be available at present, I watched the video again and got the questions from the closed captioning.

Third-Party Debate

  1. A top-two primary is an election in which party labels appear on the ballot, but parties do not nominate candidates. Instead, the candidates choose their own ballot label. All candidates run in the primary, but only the top two vote-getters appear on the ballot in the November election. This system is currently used in LA, WA, and CA. It is now a ballot measure in AZ, Prop 121, with other states interested in adopting the system. What is your position on the top-two primary system and why?
  2. In what ways does the war on drugs impact Americans, and how could these effects be reduced? Is there a more efficient way to deal with the issue of drug use in America?
  3. Do you think that an annual military budget of nearly $1 trillion is absolutely necessary to keep us safe, and in a broader sense, what do you think should be the role, worldwide, of the United States military?
  4. Some estimates give a college education in the year 2030 a price tag of nearly $400,000. Is college really worth it at that point? If so, how do we provide the opportunity to everyone?
  5. Where do you stand on NDAA section 1021, the ability to detain Americans indefinitely?
  6. If you had the opportunity to write one constitutional amendment with an absolute guarantee it would be approved by Congress and the state legislatures, what would it be?

Obviously, with fewer questions, the topics were much broader, but even so, the third-party candidates covered ground that Obama and Romney didn’t. I certainly would have liked to have heard the money candidates talk about election reform, the war on drugs, and the NDAA. I also would have liked to have heard the third-party candidates delve into topics like health care and social security. (Two of the third-party candidates will weigh in on foreign policy on October 30.)

Ideally, I would like all six candidates in a debate together, with Larry King as moderator, a “cut the mic” button to keep the candidates from interrupting each other (not really a problem in the third-party debate, but apparently the money debates had trouble), and a team of live fact-checkers. Too bad that will never happen.

Here’s some coverage of the third-party debate.


  1. the format of debate you’re requesting, is pretty much the Sorkin pitched debate from Newsroom. And you’re right, that is PRECISELY how our debates should be handled. On the fly fact-checking with a moderator who takes an active role in ensuring that the conversation stays on topic and in the realm of “Mostly true” on either side.

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