Opinion: Where did all of the political debates go? NPR's Scott Simon ponders a diminishing and vanishing election year tradition: candidate debates.

Opinion: Where did all of the political debates go?

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This used to be the season of the World Series, fake cobweb decorations and candidate debates. First two are holding strong, at least at my place. But the 2022 midterm elections have had a dearth of political debates.

FiveThirtyEight, the political analysis website, says 58% of races for the U.S. Senate this year have had no debates. Many contests that have, there been just one matchup. There used to be three. Candidates for governors are holding back, too. Report on the Governing website has concluded, numerous candidates for governors and other offices have decided that participating in debates is not in their own best interest. Even when they do happen, candidates' debates usually aren't real debates, so much as quiz shows without the relief of occasional commercials for headache remedies and walk-in tubs.

Candidates prepare a supply of prefabricated zingers, which they launch in reply to almost any question whether it applies or not. Post-debate news coverage highlights gaffes and awkward moments over policy differences. Those who run for office now can reach the public directly on a whole range of platforms. They don't need pesky questions from impertinent reporters or citizen forums where somebody asks, so do you believe in UFOs?

And the public, for that matter, now has scores of options for what to watch or stream on a weekday night - cooking contests, dating shows, series about serial killers, supernatural events or the party-filled lives of a superyacht crew in the Mediterranean. How can somberly dressed people talking about infrastructure projects and the tax code possibly compete when the floor is lava?

Just as I began to wonder how candidates might be enticed back to the debate lecterns to dig into some budget priorities, I saw an unrelated story that might offer a clue. Virgin Australia Airlines has launched a middle-seat lottery. Take a middle seat on one of their flights, one of those B or E seats that can feel as confining as Hannibal Lecter's straitjacket, and your name is entered in a lottery for prizes that include free flights and cruises, a helicopter pub crawl and bungee jumping. Instead of imploring or admonishing candidates that debates are good for democracy, maybe good government groups can just induce them to participate by saying, hey, wouldn't you like the chance to go bungee jumping?


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