Debate burnout? Not just yet.

Kaitlin Joshua

Though the field for the Democratic Presidential primary is ever-waning - New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, among others, have already dropped out of the race - it is certainly not lacking in controversy. From South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg being (falesely) accused of sexual assault to author Marianne Williamson’s supposed outing as an anti-vaxxer, the fledling election cycle has been a spectacle to say the least.

Just earlier this week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders experienced a heart attack, a medical event that his campaign labeled “chest discomfort” for three days before revealing the full truth. In somewhat less serious news, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren experienced her share of attention when “Marine” - a claim has since been debunked - Kelvin Whelly pronounced her a cougar accused her of hiring him as an escort. Whelly’s story has a few irredeemable plot holes and has largely been dismissed, but still spent significant time in the news cycle over the past week. Whelly’s lie was actually brought to national attention by the same conservative pundits who purported the false Buttigieg story.

The dramatics of this primary are magnified every time a CNN alert lightens my phone screen, and the debate turnaround - the average time between debates is just over a month - inundates my news alerts, favorite podcasts, and Twitter feed with new campaign fodder, memes, and policy questions regularly. Information overload is an understatement, yet I’m still not quite ready to delete my news apps, unfollow my favorite political commentators, and find something else to do on debate nights.

Even when all the news, scandals, and flubs feel overwhelming, I can’t help but follow every update.

When I recall the 2016 election, I remember growing so invested in the election and its players that I hardly knew what to do with myself after it ended. Now, even consuming politics in small doses can feel like a lot, to say the least. Even though I liked staying up-to-date, I wanted to be careful to avoid the level of burnout I experienced three years ago. Wondering if debate burnout was happening for anyone I knew, I turned to Instagram for some answers. I asked whether or not pollees were planning to watch the upcoming debate, whether they’d watched previous debates, and what swayed their decision either way.

Overwhelmingly, respondents indicated that they had watched at least one of the previous debates and were also planning to watch the next one. 73% of respondents said that they were planning to watch the debate, and most cited staying informed as the major reason for still watching them after three previous debates. For those who opted to tune out, most pointed out that the debates weren’t offering as much new information as they wanted. Below are just a few explanations:


“Because I care about my future! And the candidates’ stances on the issues will affect policy.”

“To determine what issues the candidates will prioritize”

“Wanna know what people stand for!!! (and understanding memes on Twitter later)”


“Disappointment in moderation, topics, and dialogues in the last ones”

“They just feel useless at this point and I don’t think I’m learning much.”

Even those who stopped watching debates did so because they didn’t provide enough or useful information. Despite the myriad ways iGen consumes polls, fact-checks, and op-eds, more information is still a plus. With eight more debates planned to run through April 2020, perhaps debate burnout is on the horizon for some of those trying to keep themselves informed. However, as for me and my Instagram feed... we’ll be tuning in.

The 4th Democratic Presidential will air October 15th.

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