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Lesson Plans

First Democratic presidential primary debate: How did the candidates do?

October 14, 2015

Full Lesson



Have your students read the following article and watch some of the highlights from the debate. Then discuss the nature of debates and the candidates’ views using the discussion questions. Also, check out Extra’s story on how the Republicans’ second debate went. 

All five Democratic presidential candidates met in their first primary debate Tuesday night to discuss issues from foreign policy in Syria to the widening gap between very wealthy and middle-class Americans.

One of the highlights of the debate came between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders when they agreed it’s time to move past Clinton’s current email server controversy.

However, Clinton and Sanders did show some disagreement over the issue of gun control.

Clinton discussed her ability to bring a unique voice to the presidency by being the first woman to hold the office and defended a woman’s right to choose. Sanders stuck to the issue that he sees as the center of his campaign, income inequality, and defended his beliefs in democratic socialism.

The three lesser-known Democratic candidates tried to make themselves more competitive against the front-runner Clinton.  Former U.S Senator of Virginia Jim Webb clarified his position on affirmative action while former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor, Martin O’Malley, spoke about his record during his time in office and how Democrats differ from Republicans.

Former governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee accused Clinton of switching her stance on positions too many times, including her vote for use of force in Iraq in 2003.

As is the nature of television debates, candidates do not always end up with equal speaking time. Can you guess which candidate spoke the most? Find out here.

The candidates also discussed efforts to address race relations in the U.S. by Black Lives Matter supporters and problems with the U.S. criminal justice system, which incarcerates the highest number of citizens in the developed world.

The next Democratic debate will be held on November 14 and the next Republican debate is scheduled for October 28.

Discussion questions:

  1. How would you describe the overall tone of the debate?
  2. Did the candidates address issues that are important to you? Explain.
  3. Do you think the job of a debate moderator is challenging? Explain.

More activities:

Check out this Extra video lesson to learn more about how Clinton and Sanders differ on the issue of gun safety.

Find out how Republican presidential candidates reacted to the debate over Twitter here.

Hear from this veteran PBS NewsHour debate moderator for an inside look at how debates work.

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.