Presidential debates are intended to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners,” according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. That means highlighting differences between the candidates to help Americans choose their next commander in chief.
On Wednesday night alone, the candidates were asked to compare their economic policies, attitudes toward the Second Amendment, and positions on immigration. Other themes across the three debates have included the candidates’ fitness to be president and their vision for America’s future. One issue notable for its absence, however, was climate change.
Scientists repeatedly warn that our rapidly warming planet appears to have passed a point of no return: carbon dioxide levels went above 400 parts per million in September, a threshold not passed for millions of years. Even military personnel have weighed in, calling climate change a “threat multiplier” that makes military operations more challenging and costly worldwide. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, during the Democratic primary, cited climate change as the greatest threat to US security.
Climate change was vigorously debated by Democrats during the primary election, and many polls have showed voters consider climate a pressing issue, but most Americans still don’t rate its importance highly in comparison to other issues.
Though some have argued that the issue should have received greater attention than just one question in the second debate and aside references by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the others, talking about it may not have been in the candidates’ best interest.
“If you ask people if they think climate change is an important issue they’ll say yes, but if you think of it comparatively to other important issues it kind of falls by the wayside,” Geoffrey Skelley, a spokesman for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told The Christian Science Monitor in November.
Asked about what issues they wanted to hear about in the debates, respondents to an August Pew poll allocated the most time to terrorism and economic growth, while global climate change ranked near the bottom. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s supporters would give climate change four minutes in a 100-minute debate, while Mrs. Clinton’s supporters would allocate 10 minutes to the issue.