The League of Women Voters of New Jersey says debates in several legislative districts aren’t being held this year because candidates aren’t willing to participate.
Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray says avoiding debates is a political strategy for some candidates.
“If you are running ahead, the status quo is your best friend. So you don’t want to upset that by engaging in a debate where something is out of your control.”
Murray says incumbents might prefer to skip debates.
“When you have what’s considered a fairly safe seat you don’t want to give your opponent, the challenger, who’s probably not all that well known, a venue in which they can introduce themselves to voters and a potential opportunity to get you to trip up and make a mistake.”
Jesse Burns is executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. She says what’s good for campaign strategy, isn’t necessarily what’s good for the voters.
“Candidates have to remember that when they are elected they serve their constituents. And what better way to show that you are going to serve your constituents by starting while you’re campaigning and debating in front of them and giving them an opportunity to hear where they stand on public policy issues.”
Even if a lot of people don’t attend a debate, Burns says they can make a difference to voters.
“When we publish those videos in full on social media that’s what’s shared. People want to see exactly where candidates stand on public policy issues. And they don’t want to rely on campaign literature and paid television ads and that kind of thing to learn about candidates.”
Burns says debates are an excellent way to overcome voter apathy.
“They get to hear about real public policy issues. And when you hear about policy issues you realize that the candidates that get elected make important decisions, and there is a difference between candidates that are running, and it directly affects your life.”