A Short Guide to Watching Political Debates

Get out your rubber boots, because the mud is going to fly

Brad Stollery
Jul 12 · 8 min read
Credit: Atdhe Mulla/Prishtina Insight
  • Hope
  • Change
  • Hard-working families/folks/Americans/Canadians
  • Kitchen table
  • The middle-class (“and those working hard to join it”)
  • Wall Street/Bay Street vs Main Street
  • Men and women in uniform

Take It Seriously — But Not Too Seriously

Remember that you’re watching an advertisement, not a good-faith dialectic. The dumpster fires that burn between candidates on stage will always provide more heat than light. They are competing for attention, so they have incentive to provide snappy soundbites that will be picked up, replayed, and analyzed to death by the pundits afterward.

Civil Disengagement

But do you want to know what — or who — is most to blame for the sullied state of political debate? We, the apathetic public.

A Flawed Electoral System

Part of the problem lies with the First-Past-the-Post electoral system, in which the party that wins the most seats — rather than the most overall votes — gets to form the government. (For Americans, this is effectively the same as the Electoral College. Just as a candidate can lose the popular vote and still become president of the United States, political parties in Canada often win majority governments with less than 40% of the popular vote.) This makes elections noncompetitive in certain regions.

How gerrymandering works

Credit: Washington Post

Character Matters, But Issues Matter More

Some people have less charisma than socks-in-sandals. Nobody wants a leader like that. We’re choosing someone to represent us on the national or international stage as the face of our political community, after all. He or she has to be relatable, not robotic.

Reflect on What Is Left Unsaid and Who Is Left Unheard

Credit: New York TImes
Source: Twitter
Source: Mueller Report Volume II, p. 8.

Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.

— Jonathan Swift

Rediscovering Real Debate

To hold true to their name, political debates should allow for lengthy, robust conversations that can illuminate the nuances inherent to complex issues that affect us all. The debates that take place at the famous Oxford Union and in the Intelligence Squared series demonstrate what real debate looks like. (In fact, IQ² has even offered to stage pre-election debates in the US. Maybe we ought to consider it!)


Brad Stollery

Written by

2018 winner of the Dalton Camp Award for essay-writing. M.A. Political Science. I'll go to the mat for the Oxford comma.