Welcome to Debate Stats.Com
Our statistics team has tracked every moment of this year's 12 major Republican debates. You can find all our findings on this site, including which issues have been discussed most, which candidates have received the most questions and which candidates have most often been on the attack. In addition, check below to read our blog in which candidate strategies are discussed.
Our Debate Blog
All Process Now
Another trend we noticed a few weeks ago and which has only increased is the debate moderators' focus on process questions versus substance. Questions of a political nature (horse race, "leadership," scandals, polls, attacks, commercials) are now dominating the questioning as never before. In fact, "political" questions now lead all other debate topics from health care to the economy to military and defense. A quick look at the number of political questions asked in each debate shows the marked increase. The first 10 debates had the following totals of political questions in each debate: 6, 11.5, 4, 0, 6.5, 0, 4.5, 7, 1 and 0. The last 4 debates have had this many: 24, 15, 24.5 and a record 27.5 in the Brian Williams NBC debate of January 23rd.
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Ignored: Paul & Santorum
One would think that as candidates have dropped out of the race that there would be more fairness in the number of questions each candidate receives. However, that does not seem be to the case. Back when Romney and Perry were battling for the lead, there seemed to be some justification if the leading candidates received more questions. In the interest of time and with 8 candidates on stage (some not polling well), moderators had to find ways to engage the front-runners. But now with just 4 candidates and plenty of time to get to everyone, the unevenness of questions seems even more unbalanced.
The results from the NBC Debate from Florida: Total questions and followups: Romney 25, Gingrich 23, Santorum 11, Paul 9.
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The ABC Debate: Social Issues Rule?
The ABC News debate of January 7th has been receiving criticism that it focused too much on social issues. We took a look at the breakdown of questions that night. While it is certainly true that gay marriage and abortion were more in the spotlight with 7.5 and 4.5 questions each, social issues did not dominate as much as some media commentators have alleged. There were 18 questions asked about jobs, the economy and taxes, 21 on foreign policy and 9.5 on political topics.
Perhaps it is this last category that really deserves focus. In the final four debates, the moderators seem to have honed in more and more on the horse race. In the first 10 debates only 40 questions were asked on political subjects. In the final four debates, 64 questions have been asked about politics. David Gregory was especially horse race focused, asking 24 questions in the final debate about politics, leadership and ideology.
Perhaps after so many debates the moderators feel the voters already know the candidates positions on the issues. Although, one might suggest moderators question the candidates on some of the topics that have not been raised very often: poverty, drugs, crime and the environment. 
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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Enough Already
Sometimes it does not seem that there is much rhyme or reason in the questions asked at debates. Or at least the reasoning is flawed. Take two categories that we have tracked during the 12 major debates so far in this cycle, "jobs" and the "European debt crisis." Ask reporters what crisis the next president may have to deal with next and many will tell you that it could be the debt crisis in Europe. If banks and economies in Italy, Spain and other countries in Europe go down the drain, the next U.S. president may be faced with the biggest question of his or her term, whether to intervene to save Europe. And that decision may decide the fate of the U.S. economy. So far in 13 debates and over 700 questions asked, there has been exactly one question posed on this issue directly.
Meanwhile exactly 100 questions have been asked on the issue of jobs. Here, however, most experts will tell you that the U.S. president has very little ability to affect events directly. This is probably why candidate answers on the job question tend to sound rather unspecific. Despite the fact that incumbent presidents tend to be judged on the job number more than any other, there really isn't a lot they can do about it.
This is not the first time reporters have ignored issues that could weigh heavily during the next term. How many questions did George W. Bush face on Al Qaeda during the 2000 debates? How many did George H.W. Bush answer on Iraq during the 1988 debates? Did Jimmy Carter get many questions on Iran in 1976?
We would ask the debate moderators to be a bit more forward-thinking on the topics they ask candidates rather than asking 100 times, "What's your jobs plan?" 
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Is Mitt Likable? Maybe Yes...
A recent Newsweek cover rhetorically asked the question from Mitt Romney’s point of view, “Why Don’t They Like Me?” It is certainly a reasonable question. Romney seems to be unable to break the 25% mark in state or national polls despite the implosions of various other challengers. However, it may well be that if there is a disliking of Romney it is more ideological than personal. Many polls have suggested that Romney is the second-choice of many voters and that voters generally do not dislike him personally. One statistic we have kept track of at Debatestats.com is how often a candidate has made the audience laugh. While it is certainly not a scientific category, we feel it is a pretty fair barometer of how people feel about the candidate. It seems quite likely that an audience that appreciates a candidate’s humor is probably going to like that candidate personally. What is perhaps most surprising is that Romney leads all candidates in making the audience laugh. 13 times during the debates as opposed to 11 for Cain, 11 for Gingrich, 5 for Perry and on down the line. If Mitt Romney can get through the primary season where ideology is all-important, it seems plausible that a general electorate may find Romney perfectly likable. 
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Paul & Others Continue to be Short-Changed
At this website has demonstrated through statistical analysis, some candidates receive far more chances to speak than others. Case in point: At the time of this writing, Mitt Romney has answered 161 questions and follow-ups while Rick Santorum has answered just 91. While we believe all candidates should receive the same opportunity, it is perhaps somewhat understandable that Romney, as the candidate deemed the best opportunity to win, would recieve a greater share of questions. Santorum, at 1% in most polls, has been viewed as an alter-ran by questioners.
But what about Ron Paul? All polls show him with a real chance to win Iowa as well as high poll numbers in other states as well. Overall Paul trails Romney 161-96 in responses through the same number of debates.
And as Paul's poll numbers have gone up and his campaign profile has emerged, this fact has not changed, as it has for say, Newt Gingrich. The former speaker was also ignored in many early debates, but in the most recent debate in Iowa, his new front-runner status has resulted in more questions. Gingrich received 16 questions and follow-ups to 14 for Romney in the Drake University debate.
Ron Paul however continued to be ignored. He received 7 questions but just 1 follow-up, giving him the fewest opportunities to talk of anyone on the stage. 
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Some Candidates Get All the Luck...or at Least All the Questions
Debate Stats.com has tracked every question asked to a candidates in this year's 10 major debates and it is clear that not all candidates are being treated equally. The statistics show that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been allowed to answer far more questions than their opponents. Candidates who have not broken through such as Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have been particularly ignored by the media. As you can see here, Mitt Romney has been asked 147 questions and follow-ups in 10 debates while Rick Santorum has only fielded 82 questions and follow-ups in an equal number of contests.
The disparities have existed in both direct questions and 30 second follow-ups. For instance, in Michigan's CNBC debate, Romney fielded 10 direct questions and 7 follow-ups while Ron Paul was asked just 4 questions and 2 follow-ups and Santorum 4 questions and only one follow-up.
On other occasions, the disparity has largely been a result of the 30 second follow-up rule. Moderators have repeatedly posed leading questions to Romney and Perry that all but necessitate them to attack one another. Given the 30-second rule present in many debates that "if your name is mentioned" you are allowed a rebuttal, such questions have led to a seemingly endless amount of back and forth. The front-runners talk as other candidates are ignored. For instance, in the Hanover, New Hampshire debate Romney received 8 direct questions and Michelle Bachmann fielded 6. However, Romney was awarded 13 opportunities for follow-up or rebuttal while Bachmann received just 2. When Rick Perry was riding high in the Tampa debate he answered 6 questions while Santorum got 7. However, Perry was awarded 12 follow-ups or rebuttals while Santorum did not get any.
Some candidates have challenged the debate moderators and hosts for the disparity in talking time. Our statistics show that these complaints have been more than warranted. 
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Are the Debates Post-Racial?
There was a time in the 1960s when "race" was undoubtedly the issue most at the center of American politics. But following the election of the first African-American president, is race no longer an issue? Certainly there are many who would argue that race remains one of America's most important political discussion points. However, a statistical look at this year's debate shows that race has been very much ignored. There have been 661 questions or follow-ups at the 10 Republican debates so far this year and there has been just one question directly dealing with race. It came at the August 11th debate in Ames, Iowa. That is race has accounted for just two one-thousands percent of all questions asked. As the election season continues we will have to see if the racial question has disappeared or simply has gone underground. 
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Want to Break Out of the Pack? Then Don't Attack...
There is a certain conventional wisdom that says that a candidate down the polls has to "make something happen" during a debate. This usually means that they should attack their opponent to break out of the pack. But our statistics show that attacking is not the path to the top.
This year, the candidate who has attacked his opponents most is not Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. No, it is Rick Santorum. Santorum leads his nearest rival (Perry) by a score of 28-20, albeit in 2 extra debates. Santorum has gone after virtually all of his opponents at one time or another and it has not helped him in the polls where he is still mired at 1%. Perry also came into the race flailing at Mitt Romney and pretty much began to nose-dive right from the beginning.
Jon Huntsman, despite his grown-up demeanor, has also been on the attack. In 2 fewer debates than his opponents, Huntsman placed fourth behind Romney (who has largely attacked from a defensive position) with 15 attacks.
Significantly, the two candidates whose poll numbers seemed to rise from nowhere have engaged in very little name-calling. Herman Cain only registered 3 attacks in 10 debates and Newt Gingrich has saved his aggression for the media, engaging in just 2 attacks on opponents.
This statistical evidence seems to suggest that primary voters really do prefer to see the candidates speaking to the issues rather than attacking their opponents. 
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