TIME'S UP 2020: Four Debate Questions It's Time the Candidates Answer

New Analysis from TIME’S UP Shows Moderators Are Not Asking the Questions that Matter to Voters of All Kinds in Presidential Primary Debates

Presidential primary debates are an important forum for Americans to learn about our candidates’ policy platforms. At the lectern, presidential contenders share their views on issues that matter to the electorate so that voters are informed and equipped when they cast their ballots. It’s here, on the debate stage, that our nation’s leaders — and our future president — publicly articulate their policy positions in front of millions of voters. And it’s here that candidates must be held accountable.

Viewers at home rely on debate moderators to be their voice, raising questions and concerns on their behalf. But a recent TIME’S UP analysis uncovered the troubling fact that primary debate moderators from 1996 to 2016 did not reflect the American electorate, which is majority female and increasingly more diverse.

This new analysis shows that in addition to lacking diversity, moderators have left crucial issues that matter to women out of the conversation. For fully two decades, moderators have rarely — if ever — asked candidates on either side of the aisle to define their policy positions on paid leave, child care, pay equity, or sexual harassment. 


Executive Summary

Moderators Haven't Asked the Right Questions

Paid leave. Child care. Pay equity. Sexual harassment. Each of these four issues matter to voters of all kinds, and each of these issues have concrete public policy solutions that could help address them. So TIME’S UP looked to see how moderators have ensured candidates addressed these issues in past presidential primary debates.

Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, only eight questions directly addressed sexual harassment, child care, equal pay, or paid leave:

  • Four substantive questions about paid leave,
  • Two substantive questions about equal pay,
  • Two substantive questions about child care, and
  • Zero questions about policies to address sexual harassment.

Demonstrating just how important it is for women to serve as debate moderators, women moderators asked six of the eight substantive questions on these topics.


Four Questions the Moderators Must Ask

Recognizing that these issues are top priorities to voters, in some instances candidates raised these issues themselves, making unprompted references to child care (including universal pre-k and early childhood education) at least 65 times, paid leave or FMLA at least 26 times, and pay equity at least 19 times. [1] 

But no longer can moderators let candidates get by without addressing these cross-cutting issues in presidential debates. Moderators should ask all contenders serious questions about paid leave, pay equity, sexual harassment, and childcare. By asking these questions of the candidates, moderators can help ensure that these top-of-mind issues to voters get the time and attention they deserve from the candidates seeking to become our next President:

  1. Do you think we’ve gone far enough to address sexual harassment?  What have you done and what will you do to ensure that work is safe, fair and dignified for women of all kinds?
  2. What is your plan to work with employers to close the pay and opportunity gap for women, in particular women of color, LGBTQ women and working mothers?
  3. Do you believe that the United States should have mandatory paid family and medical leave and, if so, what is your proposal to make it happen?
  4. How will you assure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable child care?

Full Analysis

Four Issues that Matter to Voters

Sexual Harassment is a pervasive problem in need of transformative solutions. Forty percent of women report experiencing sexual harassment over the course of their careers, but only six to 13 percent of those who are harassed file a formal complaint. The countless women who have stepped forward during the #metoo movement have helped shed light on the widespread and far-too-common problems of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Now, voters expect candidates to work on finding solutions. In fact, 81 percent of voters see sexual harassment in the workplace as a serious problem, and 44 percent characterize it as a very serious problem. What’s more, half (51 percent) of voters say that would not vote for someone who didn’t make addressing sexual harassment a priority.

Pay Equity has a significant impact on working women, families, and the U.S. economy. Although women represent half (47 percent) of the U.S. labor force and are increasingly the sole or primary breadwinners in their families, women are paid only 80 cents, on average, for every dollar paid to men. The gap is even larger for most women of color, where Latinas are paid 53 cents and Black women are paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, and is estimated to amount to up to half a million dollars over the course of a career. These disparities have a real, damaging effect. If women received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women would be cut in half, and the United States economy would produce $512.6 billion more annually. Women voters overwhelmingly support government action to strengthen equal pay laws, with 91 percent of women voters agreeing that Congress should enact more robust policies.

Paid Leave is a critical policy intervention for working families and, especially, for working women, who are more likely to take time away from work for caregiving than working men. But the U.S. has no paid leave policy and, as one of only two countries without mandatory paid maternity leave, is an outlier from the rest of the world when it comes to paid leave for new mothers. Adopting an effective paid leave plan could help to close the gender wage gap and could add an estimated five million people to the U.S. workforce. Eighty-four percent of voters support a comprehensive national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all people who work, and support crosses party lines. The vast majority  of Democrats (94 percent) and Republicans (74 percent) support a national policy that would cover all working people who need leave to care for a new child, for their own illness, for an ill family member, or for an injured service member.

Child Care is a keystone for children’s development and for working parents’ economic security. But families in the U.S. are often unable to access quality, affordable childcare. On average it costs nearly $15,000 per year to provide child care for an infant in a child care center, putting licensed child care out of reach for most families. And there’s a steep cost to the fractured child care system in the U.S.: childcare breakdowns cause 45 percent of parents to miss work at least once over a six-month period, resulting in $4.4 billion in losses, annually. Voters across the board want better child care policies. In fact, 80 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump and 79 percent of those who voted for Hillary Clinton want the federal government to raise the quality of child care and make it more affordable for all families. And 68 percent of voters agree that public policy “should be designed to help families afford the costs of child care and early learning.”

Methodology

TIME’S UP analyzed transcripts from 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016. [2] We sourced the majority of our data from the online database compiled by the American Presidency Project. However, some debate records were not available from the Project, so we pulled a number of transcripts from Democracy in Action’s 2000 and 2004 Race for the Whitehouse sites or LexisNexis searches. Our dataset includes primary debates, undercard debates, radio debates, and town halls and forums. Because moderators play a critical part in shaping all of these public-facing conversations where candidates share their views, we integrated each of these varying types of debates into our analysis.

We coded references to child care, sexual harassment, pay equity, and paid leave, and recorded all questions that moderators asked about those four topics. To do so, we collected and searched all of the transcripts using NVivo’s qualitative analysis software. In addition, we tallied the total number of questions in a sample of the debates from each cycle, and used the averages to reach our conservative estimate of more than 4000 total questions.. To reach our total, we counted only substantive questions asked by moderators, excluding follow-up questions. When the same question was immediately repeated to multiple candidates, we counted it once (for example, if a moderator asked a question of Candidate A, then immediately asked Candidate B and Candidate C to answer the same question, we counted only one question total). In the two town halls included in our analysis (for the Democratic contenders on October 27, 1999 in New Hanover and on December 7, 1999 in Nashua), we counted questions by audience members. For the 2016 main-stage debates, we checked our results against The Women’s Debate’s 2016 analysis of debate questions related to women’s issues.

In our analysis, we defined child care, sexual harassment, pay equity, and paid leave broadly. For child care, we coded references to universal pre-k, the Head Start program, and early education. And for paid leave, we coded references to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), although the Act only provides for unpaid leave.

In our count of questions asked by moderators, we included only questions that spoke directly to one of the four policy areas. We did not include questions about unrelated topics, even if candidates responded by raising one of the four issues. For example, the following question from Brian Williams at the October 30, 2008 Democratic Primary Debate in Philadelphia would not be included, although multiple candidates including Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd referenced universal pre-k or early childcare in their responses:

WILLIAMS: … And Governor Richardson, we're going to start with you. This is about something called Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. It's called TIMSS. A number of overseas nations took part in it. It found that overseas students spend an average of 193 days annually in school. The deficit compared to the U.S., where it's 180 days — over 12 years, that adds up to one-year gap between education in the U.S. and overseas. Do you believe we in this country need to extend the school day and/or extend the school year? And will you commit to it? …

We chose to exclude questions that do not expressly invoke sexual harassment, child care, pay equity, or paid leave because this report is intended to evaluate  how and when the moderators have held candidates accountable on these four key issues by asking targeted, meaningful questions and insisting on direct, substantive answers. While we applaud some candidates for speaking about these topics without specific prompting, we believe that moderators should challenge all candidates to define their positions on these issues that affect so many Americans.

Moderators Haven't Asked the Right Questions

Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, only eight questions directly addressed sexual harassment, child care, equal pay, or paid leave:

  • Four substantive questions about paid leave,
  • Two substantive questions about equal pay,
  • Two substantive questions about child care, and
  • Zero questions about policies to address sexual harassment.

Demonstrating just how important it is for women to serve as debate moderators, women moderators asked six of the eight substantive questions on these topics. Our first report, “Our Presidential Debates Have a Democracy Problem,” found:  

  • Fifty-eight debates (44 percent) included no moderators who are women;
  • Ninety-six debates (73 percent) included no moderators who are people of color;
  • Only 11 debates (8 percent) included a Black woman moderator, a mere 8 debates (6 percent) had a Latina moderator, and zero debates (0 percent) included an Asian-American woman moderator, and
  • Despite intentions to do better in recent years, gender diversity among moderators has improved somewhat, but racial diversity has not.

Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, moderators have asked just TWO searching questions about child care policy.

1. In the January 4, 2004 Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, moderator Paul Anger asked Congressman Dennis Kucinich about his approach to early childhood education. Kucinich responded with a proposal for universal pre-k:

ANGER: Congressman Kucinich, Beth Walling of Polk City, Iowa, points out that Iowa leads the country in the percentage of working parents with children under 5; yet most child-care providers earn low wages, and many teachers in the federal Head Start program are not certified. What would you do to improve early child-care education for all students?

KUCINICH: I've introduced legislation to create a universal pre- kindergarten program. And that legislation would make it possible for every young person, ages 3, 4 and 5, to have access to full child care, five days a week. And that would create the conditions which would enable children to receive reading skills, educational skills in nutrition.

Also, we have to keep in mind that this program would cost about $60 billion. I would fund that with a 15 percent cut in the Pentagon, cutting out the wasteful spending that I spoke about. Now furthermore, we have to understand our responsibility to fully fund education at all levels. And I want to go back to something I said at the beginning of this debate. The Bush budget is now cutting funds across the board, and education is going to get cut again. As long as we're spending $155 billion in Iraq in the last nine months, as long as the Pentagon budget keeps expanding beyond $400 billion, all of our domestic needs are going to be wiped out. And that's why I insist that we have to get out of Iraq. We have to bring the U.N. in and get the U.S. out…

ANGER: Thank you.

2. In the same January 4, 2004 Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, moderator Michele Norris asked Joe Lieberman about government spending for seniors and children. Lieberman responded that he would not reduce aid for seniors, but would increase taxes to fund universal pre-k and child care:

NORRIS: By a ratio of 10:1, the U.S. spends more on government-sponsored aid for older Americans than it does for children. You've been in Congress a long time. Why does the nation spend 10 times as much on people of your generation than on your grandchildren? And older people vote; children don't. Is this just raw political influence?

LIEBERMAN: Right. First, I want to make clear that I'm young. (LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: It's all a state of mind.

LIEBERMAN: Sorry. Will you certify to that? Right. Look, you know, Hubert Humphrey once said in a magnificent speech that you judge a society by the way it treats people at the dawn of life and at the twilight of life -— children and seniors. So the answer to this is not to cut back on aid for seniors. The answer to this, in the current context, is to cut back on the Bush tax cuts for the high income and for corporations, which can garner $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and invest that money in our children, among other things — our veterans, our homeland security, our health care, but fully fund education. Yes, let's have federal funds to leverage the universal pre-kindergarten child care program. Let's help working people having such a tough time affording child care. We can balance this. Being president is all about priorities. This president has had the wrong priorities. He wants to comfort those who are comforted, and as a result, we haven't done enough for those who are genuinely in need who are our future — our children.  

Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, moderators asked ZERO questions probing candidates about policies to address sexual harassment. Only three questions in our sample set related to sexual harassment, but none of them were policy focused.

1. In the October 11, 1995 Republican debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, moderator Carl Cameron asked Arlen Specter about his treatment of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. In his reply, Specter expressed his surprise that so many women had experienced harassment:

CAMERON: What do you say to men and women who may still be angry about the way you questioned Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings?

SPECTER: I say to them that those hearings were a learning experience for me and I think a learning experience for America. I frankly had no idea how much sexual harassment there was until those hearings were over and practically every woman I talked to had been sexually harassed. And I remind them that I was the guy who stood up on national television that Sunday afternoon that turned into 2:00 AM Monday morning saying we needed more time. And I've overcome that problem in my 1992 re-election effort because I have such a strong record on women's issues and many women like Kate Michelman of NARAL who opposed me in 1992 are now supporting my candidacy because I want equality for women. I don't want any preferential treatment. I just want equality.

2. In the January 28, 2016 Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa, moderator Megyn Kelly asked Ron Paul about Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in office. Paul, in reply, suggested that Clinton would have been fired and ostracized if he were in the private sector:

KELLY: Senator Paul, you have suggested that former President Bill Clinton's history with women is fair game in this campaign. How do you answer those who say you don't hold the sins of the husband against the wife?

PAUL: You know, I've never really brought this up unless asked the question, but I have responded to the question. I don't blame Hillary Clinton at all for this. I don't think she's responsible for his behavior. But I do think that her position as promoting women's rights and fairness to women in the workplace, that if what Bill Clinton did any CEO in our country did with an intern, with a 22-year- old, 21-year-old intern in their office, they would be fired. They would never be hired again. [applause] Fired, never hired again and probably shunned in their community. And the thing is, she can't be a champion of women's rights at the same time she's got this that is always lurking out there, this type of behavior. So it is difficult.

KELLY: Of her husband's?

PAUL: Yeah. But I combine this also with the millions upon millions of dollars they've taken from regimes in the Middle East who treat women like cattle.

3. In the January 14, 2016 Republican debate in North Charleston, South Carolina moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Ben Carson about whether Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in office was relevant to the 2016 election. In response, Carson suggested that past presidents should be subject to scrutiny and emphasized the importance of American values:

BARTIROMO: Dr. Carson, one of the other candidates on this stage has brought Bill Clinton's past indiscretions. Is that a legitimate topic in this election? And what do you think of the notion that Hillary Clinton is an enabler of sexual misconduct?

CARSON: Well, there's no question that we should be able to look at past presidents whether they're married to somebody who's running for president or not in terms of their past behavior and what it means. But you know, here's the real issue, is this America anymore? Do we still have standards? Do we still have values and principles? You know, you look at what's going on, you see all the divisiveness and the hatred that goes on in our society. You know, we have a war on virtual everything — race wars, gender wars, income wars, religious wars, age wars. Every war you can imaging, we have people at each other's throat and our strength is actually in our unity. You know, you go to the internet, you start reading an article and you go to the comments section — you cannot go five comments down before people are calling each all manner of names. Where did that spirit come from in America? It did not come from our Judeo-Christian roots, I can tell you that. And wherever it came from we need to start once again recognizing that there is such a thing as right and wrong. And let's not let the secular progressives drive that out of us.  The majority of people in American actually have values and principles and they believe in the very things that made America great. They've been beaten into submission. It's time for us to stand up for what we believe in.

Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, moderators asked only FOUR substantive questions about paid leave.

1. In the October 13, 2015 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, moderator Dana Bash asked Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley about the affordability of their paid leave programs. In reply, Clinton pointed to state paid leave policies and suggested that the wealthy would fund her program. Sanders agreed, pointing out that the U.S. is the only major country without a paid leave policy. O’Malley echoed the other two candidates, and referenced his own success with his state-level program:

BASH: Secretary Clinton, you now support mandated paid family leave.  

CLINTON: Mm-hmm.  

BASH: Carly Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company, argues, if the government requires paid leave, it will force small businesses to, quote, "hire fewer people and create fewer jobs." What do you say not only to Carly Fiorina, but also a small-business owner out there who says, you know, I like this idea, but I just can't afford it?  

CLINTON: Well, I'm surprised she says that, because California has had a paid leave program for a number of years. And it's...  

BASH: It's on the federal level.  

CLINTON: Well, but all — well, on a state level, a state as big as many countries in the world. And it has not had the ill effects that the Republicans are always saying it will have. And I think this is — this is typical Republican scare tactics. We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small businesses. I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I'm supposed to be in court, because I was practicing law. I know what it's like. And I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms. I see my good friend, Senator Gillibrand, in the front row. She's been a champion of this. We need to get a consensus through this campaign, which is why I'm talking about it everywhere I go, and we need to join the rest of the advanced world in having it.  

BASH: But Secretary — Secretary Clinton, even many people who agree with you might say, look, this is very hard to do, especially in today's day and age. There are so many people who say, "Really? Another government program? Is that what you're proposing? And at the expense of taxpayer money?"

CLINTON: Well, look, you know, when people say that — it's always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, "You can't have paid leave, you can't provide health care." They don't mind having big government to interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They're fine with big government when it comes to that. I'm sick of it. [applause]  You know, we can do these things. [applause] We should not be paralyzed — we should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, "big government this, big government that," that except for what they want to impose on the American people. I know we can afford it, because we're going to make the wealthy pay for it. That is the way to get it done.

COOPER: Thank you. Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: Yeah, Dana, here's the point: Every other major country on Earth, every one, including some small countries, say that when a mother has a baby, she should stay home with that baby. We are the only major country. That is an international embarrassment that we do not provide family — paid family and medical leave. [applause] Second of all, the secretary is right. Republicans tell us we can't do anything except give tax breaks to billionaires and cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That's not what the American people want.  

COOPER: Governor O'Malley?  

O'MALLEY: Anderson, in our state, we actually expanded family leave. And I have to agree with Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders. Look, the genius of our nation is that we find ways in every generation to include more of our people more fully in the economic life of our country, and we need to do that for our families, and especially so that women aren't penalized in having to drop out of the workforce. My wife, Katie, is here with our four kids. And, man, that was a juggle when we had little kids and — and keeping jobs and moving forwards. We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave.

2. In the October 28, 2015 Republican undercard debate in Boulder, Colorado, moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Bobby Jindal whether the U.S. should adopt paid leave. Jindal replied that economic growth, not government intervention, would lead to better benefits:

QUINTANILLA: My question for Governor Jindal, Paul Ryan says he would take the speaker job if it did not take away from his family time. The Department of Labor says 13 percent of American workers are eligible for paid family leave and the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world not to have guaranteed paid maternity leave for new moms. Should the government work to change that?

JINDAL: Look, I think the government should work to change that, but that doesn't — does not mean I'm for the government mandating that. We already have too many government mandates out of DC. Do I want people to have paid leave? Sure. Do I want people to earn higher wages? Sure. Do I want them to have better benefits? Sure. The government can't wave a magic wand and make that happen. Here's the problem. The last seven years, President Obama has tried to teach the American people that government is the answer to all of our problems. Where has that gotten us? We're on a path toward socialism. The way that folks can get better paying jobs with better benefits is if we have a growing economy. That means to repeal all of ObamaCare, a lower flatter tax code. That means that we have an energy plan that makes sense. That means that we embrace an all of the above approach to energy. Those are good paying jobs — $50,000, $70,000, $90,000 a year jobs with benefits. But this president won't let us produce more energy on our domestic federal lands and waters. He won't allow the Canadians to build the Keystone Pipeline. He's got an EPA that's doing everything they can to kill private sector jobs in America. So, yes, I want families to have better paying jobs and better benefits, but we're not going to get that with a government mandate, we're going to get that with a growing economy.

3. In the November 14, 2015 Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, moderator Nancy Cordes asked Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley about their plans to fund their proposals for paid leave and other programs. In reply, Clinton said that she would not raise taxes on the middle class, pointing voters to her website for more details. O’Malley suggested raising capital gains taxes and income taxes for top earners:

CORDES: John, thanks so much. We've learned a lot during the course of this campaign about the things that you'd like to do that you say would help the middle class, but we haven't heard quite as much about who would pick up the tab. So Secretary Clinton, first to you. You want to cap individuals' prescription drug costs at $250 a month. You want to make public college debt-free. You want community college to be free altogether. And you want mandatory paid family leave. So who pays for all that? Is it employers? Is it the taxpayers, and which taxpayers?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, it isn't the middle class. I have made very clear that hardworking, middle class families need a raise, not a tax increase. In fact, wages adjusted for inflation haven't risen since the turn of the last century, after my husband's administration. So we have a lot of work to do to get jobs going again, get incomes rising again. And I have laid out specific plans — you can go to my website, hillaryclinton.com, and read the details. And I will pay for it by, yes, taxing the wealthy more, closing corporate loopholes, deductions, and other kinds of favorable treatment. And I can do it without raising the debt, without raising taxes on the middle class and making it reasonably manageable within our budget so that we can be fiscally responsible at the same time.

CORDES: Governor O'Malley, you also want to make public college debt-free. You want...

O'MALLEY: That's right.

CORDES: ...states to freeze tuition. You've got your own family leave plan. How would you pay for it? In Maryland, you raised the sales tax, you raised the gas tax and you raised taxes on families making over $150,000 a year. Is that the blueprint?

O'MALLEY: Nancy, the blueprint in Maryland that we followed was yes, we did in fact raise the sales tax by a penny and we made our public schools the best public schools in America for five years in a row with that investment. And yes, we did ask everyone — the top 14 percent of earners in our state to pay more in their income tax and we were the only state to go four years in a row without a penny's increase to college tuitions. So while other candidates will talk about the things they would like to do, I actually got these things done in a state that defended not only a AAA bond rating, but the highest median income in America. I believe that we pay for many of the things that we need to do again as a nation, investing in the skills of our people, our infrastructure, and research and development and also climate change by the elimination of one big entitlement that we can no longer afford as a people, and that is the entitlement that many of our super wealthiest citizens feel they are entitled to pay — namely, a much lower income tax rate and a lower tax rate on capital gains. I believe capital gains, for the most part, should be taxed the same way we tax income from hard work, sweat, and toil. And if we do those things, we can be a country that actually can afford debt-free college again.

4. In the December 6, 1999 Republican debate in Phoenix, Arizona, moderator Judy Woodruff asked Steve Forbes whether low income families deserve paid time off with their families. Forbes responded that lowering taxes would allow parents to retain more of their wages and afford off time with their families:

WOODRUFF: Mr. Forbes, while we're discussing children, six years ago Congress passed a measure to give short, unpaid leave to parents of newborn children or adopted children. This has been very popular; at least 20 million Americans have taken advantage of this. Now President Clinton proposes to expand this program by allowing states to use unemployment benefits to provide some paid time off for parents who otherwise couldn't afford to stop working. My question is: Do low income parents deserve this kind of time off with their families?

FORBES: You're absolutely right, Judy. All parents deserve time and all parents should have the opportunity to spend more time with their children. But credits from Washington, raiding unemployment funds is not going to do the job. The real way you give parents freedom is first let them keep more of what they earn in the first place. They shouldn't have to have an accountant to figure out what tax credits they qualify for. They should have it in their paycheck. Also too, I believe that as Alan and others have pointed out, we need to have parents have control of the schools so that they can go to schools where schools can have flexibility in terms of the time the children spend there. So the combination of genuine tax reform, where parents can make quality of life decisions, allowing parents to choose schools that work best for their children — that's the way to move forward instead of micromanaging with credits from Washington, D.C. Trust us, not Washington.

Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, moderators asked only TWO substantive questions about pay equity.

1. In the October 28, 2015 Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, moderator Becky Quick asked Ted Cruz about his plan to address the pay gap. In response, Cruz criticized Democrats’ policies and suggested that big government is harmful to women:

QUICK: Yes, thank you John. Senator Cruz, working women in this country still earn just 77 percent of what men earn. And I know that you've said you've been very sympathetic to our cause. But you've also you said that the Democrats' moves to try and change this are the political show votes. I just wonder what you would do as President to try and help in this cause?

CRUZ: Well, we've gotta turn the economy around for people who are struggling. The Democrats' answer to everything is more government control over wages, and more empowering trial lawyers to file lawsuits. You know, you look at women working. I'll tell you, in my family there are a lot of single moms in my family. My sister was a single mom, both of my aunts who were a single moms. My mom who's here today, was a single mom when my father left us when I was 3 years old. Now, thank God, my father was invited to a Bible study and became born again and he came back to my mom and me and we were raised together. But I — the struggle of single moms is extraordinary. And you know, when you see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and all the Democrats talking about wanting to address the plight of working women, not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama, 3.7 million women have entered poverty. Not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama and the big government economy, the median wage for women has dropped $733. The — the truth of the matter is, big government benefits the wealthy, it benefits the lobbyists, it benefits the giant corporations. And the people who are getting hammered are small businesses, it's single moms, it's Hispanics. That is who I'm fighting for. The people that Washington leaves behind. [crosstalk]

2. In the May 3, 2007 Republican debate in Simi Valley, CA, Jim Vandehei asked Tom Tancredo whether he intended to protect women’s right to fair wages. Tancredo did not directly respond to the question about pay equity, and Vandehei did not follow up:

VANDEHEI: Congressman Tancredo, this reader requests a yes or no answer. Will you work to protect women’s rights, as in fair wages and reproductive choice?

TANCREDO: I will work to product — to protect women’s rights. The reproductive choice part of that, if I heard you correctly, is a reference to abortion. The right to kill another person is not a right that I would agree with and support.


[1] Despite its prevalence in our society and the concrete things our leaders can do to address the problem, sexual harassment was never mentioned in a substantive way in any debate we analyzed.

[2] TIME’S UP previous report on the composition of debate moderators looked at 132 debates from the same time period. The reason fewer debates were analyzed in this report is because some of the transcripts from older debates were not available. In the moderator report, we were able to determine who the moderators were in debates without transcripts from contemporaneous press coverage.

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