Just Kidding: Children in the Debates

Last week, twenty Democratic candidates took the stage in Florida to participate in the first debates of the 2020 election cycle. The topics ranged from immigration to gun control, and included the usual hot-button issues such as health care and climate change.

No moderator questions explicitly mentioned children. Partly as a result, children and children’s issues were seldom addressed. When they were addressed, it was secondary to the question asked. Reliable polling indicates that Iowa voters consistently assign high priority to issues affecting kids more often than other issues considered to be high profile. Nonetheless, candidates and their campaigns often do not frame statements and positions in relation to children unless asked. Our Caucus for Kids campaign aims to nail down where each candidate stands on issues affecting children and families. We typically find candidates eager to discuss our issues when asked.

On Wednesday night, the first set of ten candidates spoke roughly 20,000 words during the entire program. Of those 20,000 words, the words “child”, “children”, “kid” or “kids” were spoken thirty-nine times. This accounts for .2 percent of the discussion that occurred during the first night of debates.

The second night of debates saw candidates who were more willing to talk about kids issues, as the topic seemed to be indirectly addressed more than it was on Wednesday night. Of the roughly 19,000 words that were spoken by the candidates and moderators on night two, the words “child”, “children”, “kid” or “kids” were spoken fifty times. However, this still accounted for .3 percent of the speaking time during Thursday night’s debate.

The Caucus for Kids campaign follows five umbrella issues; these include children’s health, early education, children’s safety and wellbeing, family economic security and equal opportunity. When pinpointing these terms and how they were spoken about during the debate -allowing children’s health to fall under the broader health care category, and safety and wellbeing under safety -these issues in terms of children were not addressed very frequently.

During Wednesday night’s debate child care was brought up two times, health care forty-nine times (none of which pertained directly to children’s health care), safety eleven times, and economic security and equal opportunity were each addressed five times.

Night two saw very similar numbers with child care being addressed two times, health care forty times, safety seven times, economic security six times and equal opportunity was discussed seven times. Compared to night one, night two candidates specifically mentioned children more often while talking about these issues, discussing –for example –a parent taking their child to the emergency room and the safety of children when parents send them to school each day.

During both nights, when candidates did mention children or address issues affecting kids, their statements often were powerful. Here are several quotes from candidates on kid’s issues that stood out.

“The ability for one generation to do better than the next is now severely at risk in the United States, especially among children living in poverty like the ones I used to work for in the Denver public schools. That’s why I’m running for president.” –Senator Michael Bennet

“That’s why I think we should triple the amount of money we spend for Title I schools. That’s why I think we should have universal pre-K.” –Former Vice President Joe Biden

“First of all, we’re talking about this as a health care issue, but in communities like mine, low-income communities, it’s an education issue, because kids who don’t have health care are not going to succeed in school.” – Senator Cory Booker

“If I’m elected president, I will work hard every single day so that you and your family can get good health care, your child can get a good education, and that you can have good job opportunities, whether you live in a big city or a small town.”- Secretary Julian Castro

“It matters that we choose someone who saw the wasted potential of our children denied pre-K and gave it to every single one of them for free.” – Mayor Bill de Blasio

“Passing a family bill of rights that includes a national paid leave plan, universal pre-K, affordable daycare, and making sure that women and families can thrive in the workplace no matter who they are.” –Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

“I will also immediately put in place a meaningful process for reviewing the cases for asylum. I will release children from cages. I will get rid… of the private detention centers. And I will ensure that this microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way… that is about reflecting the values of our country and not about locking children up, separating them from their parents.” –Senator Kamala Harris

 “We can save ourselves. We can save our children. We can save our grandchildren. And we can save literally the life on this planet. This is our moment.” –Governor Jay Inslee

“My life and my career and my work in the Senate has been about economic opportunity. And to me, this means better childcare for everyone in this country.” – Senator Amy Klobuchar

“We would not build walls. We would not put kids in cages. In fact, we would spare no expense to reunite the families that have been separated already… and we would not criminally prosecute any family who is fleeing violence and persecution…” –Representative Beto O’Rourke

“We need to start dealing with the trauma that our kids have. We need trauma-based care in every school. We need social and emotional learning in every school. Ninety percent of the shooters who do school shootings come from the school they’re in, and 73 percent of them feel shamed, traumatized, or bullied. We need to make sure that these kids feel connected to the school. That means a mental health counselor in every single school in the United States. We need to start playing offense. ” -Representative Tim Ryan

 “I will approach this issue as a prosecutor. I’ll approach it as the only person on this stage who has voted and passed background checks. But also as a parent, of a generation who sends our children to school where we look at what they’re wearing so we can remember it in case we have to identify them later. A generation who has seen thousands of black children killed in our streets. And a generation who goes to the theater and we actually look where the fire exits are. We don’t have to live this way. We must must be a country who loves our children more than we love our guns.” –Representative Eric Swalwell

“Seven children will die today from gun violence, children and teenagers. And they won’t just die in mass shootings. They’ll die on sidewalks, they’ll die in playgrounds, they’ll die in people’s backyards. Gun violence is a national health emergency in this country. And we need to treat it like that.” –Senator Elizabeth Warren

“If you forcibly take a child from their parents’ arms, you are kidnapping them. And if you take a lot of children and you put them in a detainment center, that’s inflicting chronic trauma upon them. That’s called child abuse. This is collective child abuse.” – Marianne Williamson

As noted through this analysis, important topics related to children were discussed during the debates. However, the issues affecting children have not been addressed as much as they should, and they have seldom been the primary issue for any of the campaigns that participated in last week’s debates. This serves to us, the Caucus for Kids campaign, as a reminder of the work that needs to be done leading up to the February caucuses to ensure that Iowans can access information about every candidate’s positions regarding children’s issues. We have seven months to achieve this so Iowa can caucus with kids in mind and we need your help. You can make a difference by attending candidate events, asking the hard questions and getting some answers. If you’re interested, please contact Jill Applegate (japplegate@everychildmatters.org).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.