The last debate time analysis

A little out of the scope of this blog, but I wrote previously about how the previous two democratic presidential debates were proportioning out speaking time to the candidates based roughly (if not entirely) on their poll numbers. In the 10/30 MSNBC debate, the correlation between speaking time and poll numbers was near perfect (a, b), with the leading candidate holding the floor more than 3.5 times as long as one of the trailing candidates. The proportioning of time was clearly planned, and I say this is a bad thing because viewers have a right to know that the TV network is deliberately skewing our view of the election by putting some candidates in our face more than others. The 11/15 CNN debate had still a very high correlation between speaking time and poll numbers, though not as high as the first debate, but nevertheless one of the leading candidates held the floor three times longer than one of the trailing candidates (c).

The Des Moines Register held the final debate last night, and I am happy to see that someone decided the debates would be done responsibly. The candidates all held the floor for roughly an equal amount of time (as per usual, according to the New York Time’s debate analyzer widget). Bill Richardson held the floor the longest — not a leader in the polls by any means — and only 1.4 times longer than the least-speaking candidate (versus 3.5 and 3 times above). (Comparing the speaking times to a more recent Nov. 30 poll, there is still a small correlation (r=.3), but not enough to think it was pre-planned.)

By the numbers: The MSNBC debate gave 23 additional seconds to each candidate for each percentage point in their latest poll number, and this totally accounts for the speaking time of each candidate. In the CNN debate, candidates spoke around 12 seconds more per poll percentage point, and while this allocation of time seemed pre-planned, it perhaps was not based entirely/exactly on poll numbers. The Register appeared to allocate time evenly, and any influence of poll numbers on speaking time that there might have been was greatly overshadowed by other factors.

I’m finally tagging this post under “corruption.” Normally we think of corruption as big business influencing the policy of politicians, but here it’s party politics trying to control the media — except I would venture to say that while MSNBC (i.e. General Electric and Microsoft) and CNN (i.e. Time Warner) were happy to play along, The Register (owned by Gannett Co., a major owner of newspapers throughout the country) did things right.

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