TIME'S UP's new report of the 2019 debates shows moderators and candidates are starting to address issues of safety and equity at work

TIME’S UP 2020: Year in Review

Changing Laws & Policy, Debates, Equity, Federal Policy, Power, Safety, TIME'S UP 2020

Millions of Americans watch presidential primary debates, an important forum for voters to determine where the candidates stand. At a time when voters are more diverse than ever, the debate moderators should better reflect the voters and should bring issues of central concern to voters of all kinds to the fore.

Yet a TIME’S UP analysis conducted in June 2019 found that the debate moderators have not reflected today’s voter base, which is more than 50 percent women and more than one-third people of color.

  • Nearly half (44 percent) of debates included no moderators who are women.
  • Three-quarters (73 percent) included no moderators who are people of color.
  • Only 11 debates (eight percent) included a Black woman moderator, and a mere eight debates (six percent) had a Latina moderator.

What’s more, another TIME’S UP analysis conducted in June 2019 found that for fully two decades, debate moderators have rarely — if ever — asked candidates on either side of the aisle to define their policy positions on four critical issues: paid leave, child care, pay equity, and sexual harassment.

Ahead of the first presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) took an unprecedented step forward by requiring at least one woman moderator and one person of color sit at the moderator’s table. As a result, the 2020 primary debates have featured a diverse group of moderators and panelists. In fact, out of 19 moderators in six debates, we have had:

  • twelve women moderators, including the seventh all-women moderator panel in over two decades;
  • nine moderators of color;
  • four moderators who are women of color; and
  • the first Asian-American woman moderator in over two decades.

The diversity of the moderators contributed to better representation of issues that matter to the majority of voters — issues that have historically been left off the table. In the six debates thus far, the moderators have asked more than 200 questions this cycle, including:

  • one question on policies to address sexual harassment;
  • one question on paid leave;
  • one question on child care; and
  • two questions on pay equity.

Importantly, NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker asked a question about sexual harassment this cycle — marking the first time EVER that a substantive question about sexual harassment has been asked of a candidate in a primary debate. This topic — which affects 85 percent of women at some point in their careers — deserves further scrutiny, and we hope more questions will be asked in the future.

In 20 years, there were only eight questions asked about sexual harassment, child care, paid leave, and pay equity.

With five questions on these topics this cycle — compared to eight questions total in the 20 years prior — it’s clear that these basic issues of fairness are finally piercing the public consciousness. This is important because these are issues of great concern to the vast majority of voters:

Tellingly, three out of five of the questions this cycle were asked by the all-women moderator panel during the November 20, 2019 debate. This tracks with our original research, which found that who sits at the moderators table matters. In fact, when you combine the findings of our previous research with our observations this cycle, women moderators have asked 10 (77 percent) of the only 13 substantive questions about sexual harassment policy, child care, paid leave, and pay equity in primary debates from 1996 to the present.

Representation matters.

Times have changed since 2016. The #MeToo movement has gone viral and TIME’S UP was formed. Millions of people from all backgrounds have come forward to share their stories and demand our leaders take sexual violence seriously as a matter of public policy. More women and people of color are running for office — and winning — than ever before. And the moderators and candidates are starting to pay attention to issues of safety and equity at work.

But our work does not stop here. TIME’S UP is fighting for safe, fair, and dignified work for everyone — and until that day comes, we will continue to speak out. We hope you’ll join us.


We manually coded references to childcare, sexual harassment, pay equity, and paid leave, and recorded all questions that moderators asked about those four topics. Using full transcripts of the last four Democratic primary debates (provided by CNN.com), we counted only substantive questions asked by moderators, excluding follow-up questions. When the same question was immediately repeated to multiple candidates, we counted it once (for example, if a moderator asked a question of Candidate A, then immediately asked Candidate B and Candidate C to answer the same question, we counted only one question total).