Four Tips for Watching Political Debates as Race for Governor Heats Up

Whether you know who you’re voting for or not, political reporters Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth give their pro tips for debate watchers.


Jake Neher/WDET

When a political debate pops up on TV, do you immediately grab the remote or run for the door? Or do you pop some popcorn?

No matter which category you fall under, these debates are important. And next time that debate comes on, we’ve got some things you might want to keep in mind while you (hopefully) watch.

This week, all major Republican candidates for governor met on stage for the first time. It was a debate hosted by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids.

WDET’s Jake Neher and Michigan Public Radio’s Cheyna Roth talk about what happened at that debate, and about whether these debates are worth paying attention to. Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.

Neher and Roth also give their pro tips for debate watchers. What should voters watch for in these debates?

Watch for unrehearsed/impromptu moments

“Pay attention when they start to get tripped up,” says Roth. “Were they asked a question that they’re just not necessarily prepared to answer. Is that an issue that you really want your candidate to be able to answer?

Look for questions they don’t have a specific plan to address

“Do I need my candidate to be able to answer that question with more than just some sort of lofty idea?” says Roth.

Read the fact checks!

“Even if you have a great (debate) moderator… it’s very hard, on-the-fly, to do a real comprehensive fact check on the stage right there,” says Neher. “Read after you watch.”

There are a number of publications doing fact checks during the campaign, including Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad.

Make the debate watching experience fun, somehow.

Look, we get it. These debates can be sometimes be boring, pedantic, and exasperating — sometimes all at the same time. But they’re important. So try to find a way to make it fun. 

Some Lansing insiders have suggested debate-watching activities that make use of certain libations that should be consumed responsibly:

If that’s not your thing, get some friends together to make a game of bingo out of it. Or just follow some of your favorite politicos on social media and add your voice to the conversation. Chase those retweets or ‘likes’ with intelligent and funny insights or questions — with maybe a pinch of snark here and there.

Learn more about all the candidates for governor here.


  • Cheyna Roth

    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

  • Jake Neher

    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.