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

In July, we saw another round of debates that took place over the evenings of the 30th and the 31st. These debates contained more topics that directly address children. As we noted in the debate analysis above, when the moderators ask about children, the candidates are more than willing to discuss their plans.

In terms of how much time was spent talking about children during the deabtes on July 30th & 31st, we saw similar numbers to those in the first debates held in June. On both nights, kids and kid related topics we discussed about .2% of the total talking time.

Amount of time spent talking about kids over the 3.5 hours of debate both nights.

On July 30th, the words kid, kids, child or children were spoken thirty-nine times. From there, phrases realting to child care and early education were spoken six times, health was addressed fifty-eight-times (never directly about children, though), safety and wellbeing was addressed eight times – always in terms of guns and immigration. Family economic security was talked about eleven times and equal opportunity was discussed five times.

On July 31st, the words kid, kids, child or childre were brought up a total of forty-nine times. Topics relating to child care and early education were addressed six times, health care was brough up twenty-two times (again, never in the context of children’s health care), and saftey and wellbeing was spoken about three times. The topic of family economic security was brought up twent-two times and equal opportunity was discussed fourteen times.

As with the first set of debates, many of the candiates spoke directly about children and children’s issues. Here are some quotes that stood out.

” We need a conversation about what’s happening now. And when there’s a group of kids in this country that don’t get preschool through no fault of their own and another group does, equal is not equal. ” – Representative Michael Bennet

” I support making sure that every single solitary person needing childcare get an $8,000 tax credit now. That would put 700,000 women back to work, increase the GDP by almost 8/10 of 1 percent. It’s the right thing to do if we can give tax breaks to corporations for these things, why can’t we do it this way? ” – Former Vice President Joe Biden

” Number one, I would invest in tremendous educational opportunity; invest in universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds; invest in improving K-12 education and also making higher education available to everyone through tuition-free public state universities, community colleges and job training and certification programs. ” – Former Secretary Julian Castro

” They said it couldn’t be done, but we gave pre-K to every child for free. ” – Mayor Bill de Blasio

“4 out of 10 moms have to work. They’re the primary or sole wagers. They actually have to put food on the table. 8 out of 10 moms are working today. Most women have to work to provide for their kids. Many women want to be working to provide for their communities and to help people.” – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

” Our plan will allow people to start signing up on the first day. Babies will be born into our plan, and right now, 4 million babies almost are born every day in America — or every year in America. Under our plan, we will ensure that everyone has access to health care. ” – Senator Kamala Harris

“I think the job is incumbent on any one of us to make the convincing case that we can deliver an urban agenda that represents progress in schools. In Colorado when I was Mayor we got universal pre-K for every kid in the urban city.” – Former Governor John Hickenlooper

” And I will close with this: I am confident and optimistic tonight, even in the face of this difficulty, because I know we can build a clean energy economy, I know we can save our children and our grandchildren. ” – Governor Jay Inslee

” The second thing I would say is that economic opportunity means economic opportunity for everyone in this country. I know that because I have lived it. And that means when we put out there better childcare and better education, and we pay teachers more, and we make sure there’s a decent retirement system in place, yes, we help the African-American community and we must, because they have been the ones that have been most hurt by what we’ve seen in the last decades, but we help everyone. ” – Senator Amy Klobuchar

“The economic system that used to create $30, $40, $50 an hour jobs that you can have a good, solid middle-class living now force us to have two or three jobs just to get by. Most families, when they go to sit at the kitchen table to do their bills, they get a pit in the middle of their stomach. We deserve better.” – Representative Tim Ryan

” If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals. ” – Senator Bernie Sanders

” What can America do with two cents? We can provide universal childcare from zero to five. We can provide universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old. We can raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in this country. ” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

“What we have to do is we have to give women the economic freedom to be able to improve their own situations and start businesses, and the best way to do this is by putting a dividend of $1,000 a month into their hands. ” – Andrew Yang

On September 12th, another debate was had in the Democratic primary, and we saw more of a chance to speak about children and families issues.

Overall, there was a large increase in the amount of times that the issues we cover were addressed. This is up from approximately thirty times in each of the past debates to one hundred and thirty seven times in this one night of debate alone. This now accounted for .5% of the total talking time during the debate, over twice as much as the .2% we had seen in all previous debates.

Total times the words kid, kids, child and children were spoken during the debate.

Specifically, the words child, children, kid and kids were spoken a total of forty-nine times. In addition, subjects addressing early education and child care were brought up eight times, health and health care sixty-one times ( never directly in relation to children’s health), safety five times, economic security seven times and equal opportunity was brought up zero times.

Topics relating to our five main issue areas addressed during the debates

While discussing these topics, a few of the candidates had stand out comments about the children of our nation. Here are a few of those comments:

” I refuse to postpone giving single child in America, no matter their zip code, pre-K all the way through high school and beyond. ” – Former Vice President Joe Biden

” And so if I’m president of the United States, it is a holistic solution to education, from raising teacher salary, fully funded special education, but combating the issues of poverty, combating the issues of racial segregation, combating the issues of a criminal justice system that takes parents away from their kids, and dealing with environmental justice as a major pillar of any climate policy. ” – Senator Cory Booker

” We need a bold vision: universal pre-K and universal health care, unleashing millions of new jobs in the clean energy economy, a tax system that rewards people who have to work for a living.” – Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

” We must invest in the potential of our children and I strongly believe you can judge a society based on how it treats its children. And we are failing on this issue. ” – Senator Kamala Harris

” That would give us enough money to start with our babies by providing universal child care for every baby age zero to five, universal pre-K for every three-year-old and four-year-old in this country raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in this country, cancel student loan debt for 95 percent of the folks who’ve got it and strengthen our unions. This is how we build an America that reflects our values, not just where the money comes from with the billionaires and corporate executives. ” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

October 15th brought us the forth primary presidential debate. Children’s topics were addressed for the first time in a long time, with some topics not talked about in the past twenty years.

We again saw that children were never a direct topic in debate chatter, but as noted before, this is not for lack of candidates trying to speak on kids issues but a lack of a child focused question from the debate moderators. However, children and the issues that they face were brought up by the candidates more times than we have seen in the past!

Throughout the course of the debate, the words child, children, kid and kids were spoken forty-four times. Kids accounted for .12% of all talking time during the Tuesday night debate. While this is smaller than the average .2% from previous debates, it is worth noting that around ten thousand more words were spoken during this debate than in prior debates.

Amount of times children and kids were mentioned directly during the October debate

When it came to topics that we track in relation to children, health care was addressed thirty six times, but never in the context of children’s health care. Child care and early education saw a large growth in the amount of times it was brought up, increasing from the usual two mentions to eleven mentions in total. Pre-k was also addressed individually three times. However, economic security and equal opportunity were not addressed in terms of children at all during this debate.

As mentioned above, candidates were very willing to speak about children when they had the chance to during last night’s debate. Here are some of the quotes from the candidates about children:

“We just need folks that are going to stand up and follow where the people already are, because there are millions of Americans where this is a daily nightmare, where we’re surrendering our freedoms to fear in this country. This is the first time in American history, this fall, where we have sent our children to school, the strongest nation on the Planet Earth, and said to them, “We can’t protect you so in school, we’re going to teach you how to hide.” There are more duck-and-cover drills and shelter-in-place drills in America now than fire drills.” – Senator Cory Booker

“We have a lot of work to do there. But we’ve had 20 years of presidential debates, and we have never talked about the violence in America of child poverty. We have got to begin to talk more eloquently and persuasively and urgently about doing the things not just to make sure fair taxes are paid by people on the top, but that we deal with the moral obscenity of having the highest levels of child poverty in the industrial world.” – Senator Cory Booker

“On top of that, let me just say this. We need to support working families. We need to invest in things like universal childcare, so that people can afford childcare instead of having to pay 20 percent of their income for it.” – Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

“You add it all up, you got a lot of money that, one, helps pay for that childcare, protects that dignity of work, makes sure we have decent retirement, and makes sure that our kids can go to good schools.” – Senator Amy Klobuchar

“And there is no job that I would undertake with more passion than bringing our people together around an agenda that works for every man, woman, and child in this country rather than the corporate elite and the 1 percent.” – Senator Bernie Sanders

“And right now in America, the top 0.1 percent have so much wealth — understand this — that if we put a 2 cent tax on their 50 millionth and first dollar, and on every dollar after that, we would have enough money to provide universal childcare for every baby in this country, age zero to five, universal pre-K for every child, raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America…”  – Senator Elizabeth Warren

“That is the point. This is universal childcare for every baby in this country, early educational opportunities for every child, universal pre-K no matter where you live for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

“We want to see all of our children get a good start in life.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

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).

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