America's Fixation: Russia, Putin, ISIS and Taxes Overwhelm All Other Topics at the Debates

Somebody is seriously obsessed with Russia

Tue, Oct 25, 2016
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Russia, ISIS and taxes overwhelmed all other topics during the four presidential and vice-presidential debates, totaling 429 mentions from both candidates and questioners.

Russia (and Putin) alone came up in the four debates 178 times, more than national debt/entitlements, Social Security, the Supreme Court, race/racism, education, abortion, drugs, poverty, LGBTQ people, climate change, campaign finance/Citizens United and the environment combined, with the latter topics totaling 164 mentions.

Clinton’s emails were mentioned less than half as often as Trump’s tax returns (30 vs. 80 mentions), but still more than topics such as Social Security, the Supreme Court and education.

Domestic issues that were mentioned somewhat frequently were immigration, police brutality/race, and Obamacare. Immigration is obviously a hot button issue given Trump’s calls to forcefully cleanse 11 million largely Latino immigrants from the United States.

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Police violence was asked about twice and mentioned 20 times, almost certainly due to sustained activism from Black Lives Matter organizers. The framing of the issues from the moderators, however, was center-right in nature, using the false-parity language of “race relations” instead of “racism,” and “racial tension” in lieu of “white supremacy.” Vice-presidential debate moderator Elaine Quijano (FAIR.org,10/5/16) framed the question as “Do we ask too much of police officers in this country?” when broaching the subject with Tim Kaine and Mike Pence.

Social Security was mentioned 23 times, but almost always in the context of it being insolvent and needing to be reformed. Indeed, the billionaire-funded Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget was cited as a “nonpartisan” group by both Quijano and Fox’s Chris Wallace, moderator of the third presidential debate, implying its claims were the product of dispassionate number-crunching rather than pro-austerity lobbying. The Pete Peterson–funded think tank was mentioned during the debates as many times as climate change: four.

Foreign policy leaned heavily towards Russia, with 178 mentions. Iran was mentioned 67 times; Syria (both in the context of Assad and ISIS) was mentioned 71 times, frequently in the context of how much more it should be bombed, with “Assad” mentioned another 31 times. Iraq was mentioned 38 times, often in relation to the decision to invade in 2003.

Mexico came up 17 times, in the context of Trump insisting it was taking US jobs and Clinton noting Trump’s prior racist comments. China was brought up 43 times, mostly by Trump in similar trade-based terms.

Afghanistan, where the US still has 10,000 troops, was mentioned once; Libya, where thousands have been killed in civil wars following the US-led military intervention in 2011, three times. The US-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen wasn’t mentioned once. Israel was mentioned four times in the VP debate but not brought up at all in any of the presidential debates. The United States’ largest trading partner, Canada, was only brought up once—so that Trump could bash single-payer healthcare.

In a count of the topics asked about by the moderators (and, in the “town hall” debate, by audience members), Russia again won out. Including questions about Russia’s relation to the Syrian war, moderators asked a total of seven questions about Russia, five about ISIS and terrorism, and four about tax policy.

After three consecutive debates (and nine in the Democrat primaries) without a question about abortion,Fox’s Wallace finally broached the topic, asking both Clinton and Trump about their views on the subject.

In the four general election debates, there were no questions about climate change, education/student debt, poverty, drugs, China, the environment, privacy/surveillance, Native American issues, campaign finance or LGBTQ issues. It’s been over eight years since the topic of climate change was brought up by a presidential debate moderator.

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