The Citizens’ Agenda Round 1: #unasked Questions in GOP Debates

You may remember our announcement last December that Studio 20 is collaborating with the Guardian US on how to improve election coverage. “The Citizens’ Agenda” as the project was christened, was meant to amplify the user’s voice in a media sphere overrun with insiderism.
Our own Jay Rosen and the Guardian’s Amanda Michel summed up the idea in a co-authored column:

It starts with a question: what do voters want the candidates to be discussing as they compete with each other in 2012?

But to get at what voters wanted the candidates to be discussing, we first had to know what had and hadn’t been discussed at all. And what better place to look for what’s been talked about than the 20 GOP debates that took place from May 5 2011 to January 26, 20212?
We set to it, digging through the 800+ questions asked at the debates. Here’s what we found:   

But what was more important than what was asked, was what wasn’t, as Rosen put it:

Small business got one question. Women’s rights (beyond the abortion battle) got one question. How to prevent another crash like the one in 2008: one question. Super Pacs, a huge factor in the 2012 campaign, were asked about twice.

We also found only two questions about climate change, four mentioning the Arab Spring, and one on women’s rights beyond abortion. And we wondered: were people eager to hear more about these scantly covered issues?
In our inaugural post, we asked readers to Tweet their “unasked” questions to John King before last week’s big—possibly final—debate using #unasked, and we got some pretty good responses.

We also partnered with Scientific American, Grist, Mashable, Wired, and TechPresident, among others, to solicit #unasked questions from different communities who’ve been underrepresented in debate questions so far.

 Turns out they had a lot to say. 

Noting that the Internet and mobile technology play an increasingly large role in our daily lives, TechPresident’s Andrew Rasiej asked why tech was rarely covered across the debates, and came up with three questions of his own he’d ask were he handed the mic:

1) Do voters have a right to know what data candidates and political parties are collecting on them and what happens to this data after the election?

2) Should American companies be free to sell surveillance and internet technologies globally even to totalitarian or non-democratic regimes?

3) How should America increase low cost access to high-speed broadband in order to all Americans to effectively compete in the 21st Century Internet economy?

Meanwhile, Grist turned to its readers for comment and got some great questions back in return, ranging in topics from environmentalism to the economy to food safety concerns:

“Do you still consider fracking to be a ‘renewable’ and ‘clean’ source of energy?” — Lindsay McNamara via Twitter

“How do you plan to sustain an economy that demands infinite growth upon a finite resource base when we are already well beyond our means?” — Edward Markie, via Facebook

“Do you personally like knowing what is in your food and/or where it came from? What is your opinion on food labeling?” — Sewassbe, via comments

Thanks to a stellar interactive feature from the Guardian team, readers could also vote up what topics they wanted to hear more about on site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Campaign Finance & SuperPacs” shot to the top of the pack pretty quickly.
We have to admit, we’re slightly disappointed that Wednesday’s debate proceeded according to business as usual: no new questions were asked about climate change, technology, SuperPacs, or most other underrepresented fields.
Still, we know the study was read inside CNN. San Feist, Washington bureau chief and the producer of the Feb. 22 debate, was  asked about our study by a reporter from the Huffington Post. He said he found it “interesting and valuable.”
That’s a start.