- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Civility experts have a message for the 20 Democratic candidates as they prepare to clash onstage in the party’s first official presidential debate on Wednesday.


“Presidential debates are often the first opportunity for candidates to speak directly to voters and to the country at large about their vision for leadership,” said Keith Allred, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, located at the University of Arizona.

“Zingers and insults might get headlines, but it’s leading to a culture of candidates who stand out by throwing punches and amplifying the polarization of our politics,” Mr. Allred said. “Overwhelming majorities of voters continue to express concern with the decline of civility.

“They will get to decide in this week’s debates if the candidates seeking the White House are having a positive or negative impact on our discourse,” he said.

The organization developed a set of debate standards prior to the 2016 presidential election, based on classical deliberation techniques plus multiple surveys that revealed how the public actually defined civil and uncivil public discourse.

The group’s commonsense recommendations for candidates may not play well in raucous media coverage, but they include such simple advice as “Be respectful of others in speech and behavior” and “Answer the question being asked by the moderator.”

Moderators themselves are asked to address bad behavior, enforce debate rules equally and be respectful when interacting with candidates, among other things.

“Our hope is that if we can work to identify and quantify the things that citizens believe are civil, or uncivil, we might be better able to measure debate performance and to compare different debates in terms of their civility,” said the group’s research director Robert Boatright, who is professor and chair of the political science department at Clark University.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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