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Robert D. and Billie Ray Center, National Institute for Civil Discourse call for civility and release debate standards for 2016 presidential debates

September 16, 2016

[Edit: The National Institute for Civil Discourse published a Change.org petition on Monday, Sept. 22, calling for moderators to keep civility in the national debates and adopt the Institute's debate standards. The petition is available here.]

The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University joined the National Institute for Civil Discourse this week in calling on the presidential debate moderators to adopt a set of Debate Standards designed to ensure that the 2016 Presidential Debates are fair, informative, and civil. More than 60 organizations signed on to the debate standards, which include guidelines for moderators, the audience, and the candidates themselves.

Show Some Respect—a civility initiative led by The Ray Center, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and the Greater Des Moines Partnership—also signed onto the debate standards, released nationally on Thursday.

This election is the most uncivil in recent memory, and Americans agree. According to recent polling, 69 percent of Americans agree that civility has decreased in the last few years, and 2 out of 3 voters say the 2016 campaign is less civil than other elections.

“As an institution of higher education, we uphold freedom of thought and expression as central to our nation’s values,” said Drake University President Marty Martin. “But we know also that expression can produce conflict and challenge. Therefore, we encourage civil debate and discussion of divergent perspectives and opinions in a manner that affirms the value of every member of our community and of our nation. Drake is fortunate to be home to The Ray Center, a national leader in character development, and to be able to partner with the National Institute for Civil Discourse on these clear debate standards for candidates, moderators, and followers of the debates.”

“As a center focused on civility, character and ethical leadership we are proud to join the appeal for respect, integrity, fairness and responsibility during our nation’s presidential debates,” said Scott Raecker, director of The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University. “These debate standards set high expectations and we encourage all citizens to be engaged in the election process with respectful words and responsible actions.”

“After the constant vitriol and caustic rhetoric this campaign has wreaked on America’s political landscape, the debates represent our last best chance for a civil reset, for Americans to come together and hearing the candidates’ cases,” said Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. “We urge the moderators to adopt the National Institute for Civil Discourse’s Debate Standard and therefore ensure a civil debate, where both sides are heard and respected and treated equally.”

The Debate Standards are:

I want debaters to:

  1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior
  2. Answer the question being asked by the moderator
  3. Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others
  4. Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions
  5. Stand against incivility when faced with it

I want moderators to:

  1. Address uncivil behavior by naming it and moderating the conversation to move toward a more respectful dialogue
  2. Enforce debate rules equally
  3. Hold candidates accountable by challenging each candidate to speak the truth and act with integrity
  4. Treat all candidates equally in regards to the complexity of questions and debate rules
  5. Be respectful when interacting with candidates

I want audience members to:

  1. Be respectful of other audience members, the candidates and moderators in speech and behavior
  2. Refrain from creating disturbances to other audience members, candidates and moderators
  3. Take responsibility for personal behavior, speech and actions
  4. Speak against incivility by reminding candidates it is not acceptable
  5. Practice active listening when someone else is speaking, seeking to understand them

The presidential debates are scheduled for September 26, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York; October 9 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri; and on October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. The presidential debate moderators are NBC's Lester Holt, CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Martha Raddatz, and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. The Vice Presidential debate is scheduled for October 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, moderated by Elaine Quijano of CBS News.

The Ray Center helps create strong, vibrant communities that value positive, healthy relationships and respectful behavior. Through public awareness and programming grounded in research, The Ray Center provides character and leadership development strategies that benefit people of all ages and can meet goals in your families, schools, workplaces, athletic teams, and community organizations. The Ray Center’s programming is based upon the work of CHARACTER COUNTS! and Excellence with Integrity, two nationally-renowned character development initiatives.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse, is a non-profit, non-partisan institute based at the University of Arizona dedicated to addressing incivility and political dysfunction in American democracy by promoting structural and behavioral change. Informed by research, NICD’s programs are designed to create opportunities for elected officials, the media, and the public to engage different voices respectfully and take responsibility for the quality of our public discourse and effectiveness of our democratic institutions. NICD was formed after the tragic shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, and their National Advisory Board includes former President George H.W. Bush, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.