Commission Statement on October 8, 2004 Town Hall Style Debate

Oct 7, 2004

The Commission on Presidential Debates has received a number of inquiries concerning certain aspects of the town hall debate to be held on the campus of Washington University at St. Louis on Friday, October 8, 2004.

The debate will be moderated by Charlie Gibson of ABC News. The questions will be formulated by the town hall participants and neither the Commission nor the campaigns will review the questions. Mr. Gibson, as moderator, will be solely responsible for selecting the questions that will be asked during the debate, keeping in mind the goals of addressing a wide range of topics during the debate and attempting to spend approximately equal amounts of time on foreign and domestic issues.

The town hall participants will be comprised of uncommitted voters, including uncommitted voters not described as “soft Bush” or “soft Kerry.” The details of the participant selection process were worked out at the Commission’s request in discussions between Dr. Frank Newport, Editor-in Chief of the Gallup Poll, and representatives of the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Dr. Newport has described the format as follows in an article posted today at Gallup’s website (

Friday Night’s Debate

Friday night’s debate will be in a town hall format. Although ABC News’ Charles Gibson will be moderating the debate, the questions will be asked by a random sample of uncommitted voters from the St. Louis Metropolitan area, selected by The Gallup Organization.

This is the fourth presidential election in which Gallup has been retained by the Commission on Presidential Debates to recruit a random sample of uncommitted voters from the area around the town hall debate venue. Gallup also did the same thing for a 1992 debate at the University of Richmond (with George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Perot), the 1996 debate at the University of San Diego (Clinton and Dole), and the 2000 debate at Washington University in St. Louis (George W. Bush and Gore).

The basic procedure is very similar to those used when Gallup conducts a normal poll. Gallup begins with a random probability sample of the St. Louis area, asks people a series of questions to determine if they qualify as an uncommitted voter, and then invites them to be a participant in the debate if they qualify.

Although over 100 participants will be on stage behind Bush and Kerry, the 90-minute format means that only about 20 people will actually end up asking questions. Under the terms of the debate agreement hammered out by the two campaigns, moderator Gibson will select the questioners and will attempt to keep the questions roughly balanced between foreign and domestic issues. “