The presidential debates, in the build up to the Iowa Caucus, were meant to give voters the chance to get to know the candidates and their views. What they were, in reality, were thinly veiled shouting matches where we learned little about the candidates' views and a lot about their ability to talk over one another.
By contrast, CNN's two Democratic candidate town hall meetings held before the New Hampshire primary gave voters the chance to ask the questions and get direct answers. Not only were the questions different - ranging from a request to explain how Medicare for All would be paid for to a security question from a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombing - the responses, not bound by a 3-minute rule, gave much more insight into the candidates than all the previous debates combined. Also we were able to hear the full answer as there was no one shouting, no one complaining about the moderator and no whining about not getting enough face time. Whether it was Senator Sanders' responding to questions about whether his age would impact a second run by noting his endurance earned during his track team days in his youth or Secretary Clinton admitting no one had ever asked her about end of life issues, these town halls gave voters and viewers a much more personal look at the candidates then any debate.
While it is important to have the flow of a back and forth in a debate setting where candidates can compare and contrast their views and records, this year's debates have left the majority of Americans with a bad taste in their mouth. The jousting for the best one-liner and the continual shouting over one another made it difficult to figure out who was where on an issue.
I am pleased to see that CNN will be following this format again this week from South Carolina with the Republican candidates - divided into two nights with three candidates each answering questions from the crowd. And MSNBC and Telemundo will be hosting a town hall meeting in Nevada with the Democratic candidates this week as well.
The town hall format allows voters to the candidates respond directly to questions. There is no room for spin and no risk of having to talk over someone else. It provides a refreshing break from the shout fests that the debates have been and offers voters real insight into the candidates' views. CNN moderator Chris Cuomo summed up the difference between the two formats when he noted that while candidates would, if they didn't like his questions spend their time not answering, they couldn't do that when the voters asking the questions. And that makes all the difference.