Former Obama And Romney Advisers Join Up To Make The Presidential Debates Less Terrible

Debates "will not remain a major cultural point unless the way that the debates are delivered to voters is consistent with how voters are increasingly accustomed to getting their news."

Win McNamee / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senior-level political operatives is recommending broad changes to the way the U.S. holds presidential debates, warning that unless the debates become democratized and less dependent on traditional media, they will become increasingly irrelevant.

Formally called the Annenberg Debate Reform Working Group of the University of Pennsylvania, the group recommended a series of core changes to democratizing the debates through a formal process the soliciting of topics, expanding the pool of moderators, and increasing access to the debates through new media.

The group, which met over the course of about a year-and-a-half, included Democratic debate veteran Robert Barnett; Beth Myers, Mitt Romney's senior advisor for Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign and SKDK's Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director.

In recent election cycles, both parties have been dissatisfied with the process and rules surrounding the debates.

"We have a fairly old model that we're working from," Dunn said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. "Taking a step back and rethinking all of the pieces of this made sense."

Dunn pointed to one consideration that made sense to change: The cities and sites of the debates are picked well in advance without much credence to who the candidates are. Media has evolved since the glory days of the general election debate in 1960, but by and large, the debates have not changed with it, she said.

The group convened "to explore ways to increase the value and viewership of presidential general election debates, taking into account the ways in which the rise of early voting, the advent of social media, establishment of new media networks, changes in campaign finance, and the increase in the number of independent voters have altered the electoral environment."



A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.