Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

The State: of the Debates (Redux)

News / The State October 9, 2020

Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.

More than 70 million Americans watched the first presidential debate and 50 million tuned into the vice-presidential debate the following week.  Many more watched clips and news stories, read analysis and perused social media related to the debate.

After watching, I must ask, is this really the best way to learn about the candidates?   Words used by the candidates have impact and power. They’re capable of providing information, solutions, sympathy and empathy.  Don’t we deserve to hear from the presidential and vice-presidential candidates about their entire plans for our country?

The rules setup by the Commission on Presidential Debates and approved by both campaigns only allows the candidates to state rehearsed campaign messages without providing details and context to complex issues. 

The old adage “To every complex question there is a simple answer, and it is always wrong,” applies here. We have reduced the debates to simple answers to complex national issues, without details and context.

The issues facing the country require in-depth responses and follow-up clarification questions.

My solution is to have one candidate answer questions, without being interrupted. Non-answers would not be allowed.  For example, the moderator should keep pushing the candidate to provide specifics on key issues, like whether or not you favor packing the Supreme Court or a peaceful transfer of power (examples from the vice-presidential debate).  When the first candidate finishes, the next candidate would have the same amount of time to answer similar pointed and direct questions.

For 2020, AFBF asked each candidate to provide answers to 12 detailed and specific questions impacting farmers, ranchers and rural communities.  While follow-up is not possible, at least you can read where each candidate for president stands on these key questions.  And from their answers, you can make up your own mind about who has earned your vote.


Presidential Questionnaire (

2020 Election Toolkit (

Cody Lyon is AFBF’s managing director of advocacy and political affairs.

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