No debates, few interviews: why experts say it’s harder to get to know candidates ahead of key elections

Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 6:27 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Missouri’s primary election, with a critical U.S. Senate seat on the ballot, is now exactly two weeks away. But if you’re still undecided, you’re not alone.

Experts say it’s getting increasingly harder to get to know the candidates. In that key senate primary race, you might have noticed one big thing missing: not a single debate on Democrat nor the Republican side. Some political experts KMOV talked to said that only makes it harder for voters to decide between candidates.

“It is a sign of weakness and disrespect for the voters for candidates to skip debates,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington and expert on media and politics. He told News 4′s he’s seeing a trend among candidates and incumbents.

“They don’t have as many town halls as they used to, debate contests as they used to, they don’t talk to reporters as much as they used to and it’s creating a difficult environment to assess these elected officials,” Farnsworth said.

Gray-TV, which owns KMOV, postponed a planned debate this month between Democratic hopefuls Lucas Kunce and Trudy Busch Valentine. She did not respond to the invite. Both have now, however, agreed to one-on-one sit-down interviews this week.

KMOV and another local outlet also tried planning a debate with Republicans. It was also backburned, after Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long committed but Eric Greitens and Eric Schmitt did not.

Instead of debates, Farnsworth explained candidates are turning to their silos of slanted news sources and their own social media.

“If you want to be somewhere where you don’t want to be asked a tough question, media outlets that are explicitly conversative are going to be friendly places for politicians who are conservative,” he said.

Farnsworth said it’s also getting more increasingly difficult for reporters to even get interviews with current office holders, many of whom talk only with national media or rarely any media at all.

“Everybody has their own approach I guess, but we try to sit down multiple times a week, every week that we are in session, and it’s a time that I enjoy,” said Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. He is one of the few who makes time for local media every week.

“We don’t control the questions; you can ask whatever you want and I think that’s being held accountable. we do it all the time, hundreds and hundreds of interviews, every year and we will keep doing it,” said Hawley.

By contrast, Illinois Congressman Mike Bost hasn’t been interviewed on our air in seven months. Congresswoman Mary Miller’s office rarely responds to media requests and she has only been interviewed on a single day since she was elected last year.

She, like others, turning instead to attack ads, direct email marketing and social media.

“It’s very easy to send out something is prepared and tailored and maybe even focus-grouped before it goes out to the public. There is no doubt politicians will feel more comfortable in that venue,” Farnsworth said. But he said that only reaches so many people and voters deserve more.

“It’s really like AstroTurf, it’s not real, its fake grass,” Farnsworth said.

KMOV will have continued coverage of the candidates leading up to the primary.