What do progressive voters want to hear from the candidates during debates?

We asked ThinkProgress members to share the issues and policies that matter to them the most.

Tonight, 10 Democratic presidential candidates will appear on stage for the first of several debates stretching from now until well into next year. With more than 20 candidates officially vying for the party’s nomination — welcome Joe Sestak, who entered the fray just this week — the “first” debate is actually split across two nights this week, with another 10 candidates fielding questions on Thursday.

For many voters, this week’s debates will be their first encounter with the most viable contenders, and a chance to hear where they stand on the most pressing issues. To get a sense of what progressives are looking for from the candidates this week, ThinkProgress solicited feedback from some of our most dedicated readers — our members.

We asked our members to tell us which issues they most care about, and what they hope to hear from the candidates themselves on the debate stage. Predictably, a few key issues were mentioned by an overwhelming majority of respondents.

“I will be listening to see if the candidates understand the issues surrounding health care, why our current system is not working, and what can fix it,” said Joseph Sparks, one ThinkProgress member.


In poll after poll, year after year, health care remains one of the top issues for voters. During the 2018 midterm elections, three out of every four voters listed health care as a “very important” issue when deciding who to vote for. Among Democratic voters, that number was even higher — 88% of voters who supported Democrats said health care was a top issue.

But exactly how to fix the health care system remains a point of contention among the leading Democratic candidates, and among progressive voters.

It can take the form of Medicare for All or any kind of single-payer program,” said ThinkProgress member Larry Yaeger. “If it doesn’t include protections for pre-existing conditions and cover everyone, it is useless.”

Janice Brown, a ThinkProgress member from Colorado, agrees that a single payer health care system should be a top priority for the next Democratic president. And as a retired critical care registered nurse, she knows a thing or two about the United States’ broken system.

“I want to know why anyone should profit off of someone else’s misfortune,” she told ThinkProgress. “We would save money and improve care with single payer.”

Another issue weighing heavily on the minds of many progressive voters: climate change.

“Please tell us specifically what you plan to do to fight climate change,” beseeched ThinkProgress member Scott Woelfel. “General answers such as ‘use American brainpower to solve climate change’ are not good enough. Tell us your plan.”


“I want to hear the candidates challenge us to work together as a nation and with other nations to abate climate change disasters,” added Eloise Adams, from Texas. “With this as our primary focus, we can improve the future of life on earth and more easily tackle our other problems.”

Several issues that have been in the news lately thanks to broadsides by Republican lawmakers — particularly immigration and access to reproductive care — were also on the minds of many ThinkProgress members. 

Yaeger, from Bloomington, Indiana, offered a comprehensive list of the kinds of fixes to the immigration system he thinks the next president should address.

“Protection of immigrants in general.  A real elimination of family separation.  A functioning path to legal immigration and citizenship for asylum seekers.  Citizenship for DACA/Dreamers. Citizenship for veterans,” he told ThinkProgress.

Several ThinkProgress members also leaned on their own expertise and experience when sharing which issues they care about most and how they want it addressed.

“I took care of over 100 GSW (gunshot wounds) during my career, including four of the Columbine survivors,” said Brown, the retired critical care nurse. “I’ve seen the destruction of GSWs not just to the victim but to their families and communities. I believe every gun sold should have a background check. I believe every gun should be licensed, registered, and insured, just like we do with automobiles.”

Many members also hoped to hear the candidates respond to more niche, undercovered issues as well.

“I am very curious to hear the candidates answer is where they stand on the National Popular Vote interstate compact (which Oregon just adopted),” said Lee Lipps, a resident of Oregon whose state became the 16th to adopt the compact earlier this month.

For Yaeger, the focus will be as much about what he does not want to hear from the debate stage.

“I’m interested in policies, not negative personal attacks,” he told ThinkProgress. “Stated policies in agreement with my social and political goals win points.  Negative attacks, other than specific voting records or stated positions at odds with my goals, lose points.”