Elections & Government
The final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on October 22, just 12 days before Election Day. The debate centered around six major themes, with questions on the coronavirus pandemic, national security, American families, race in America, climate change, and leadership.
To help put the conversation in context, here is a roundup of relevant government data on four of those topics.
Consistent with previous debates during this election cycle, moderator Kristen Welker opened with questions about the continuing battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
In the week leading up to October 22, the US confirmed an average of 61,200 new COVID-19 cases per day. The US last reported this rate of infection in early August, as new cases declined from a peak of 66,000 per day in July.
As of October 22, North Dakota and South Dakota were reporting daily averages of 101.2 and 80.8 new cases per 100,000 residents, respectively — the highest population-adjusted counts among all states. Montana, Wisconsin, Idaho and Nebraska followed, with between 43 and 63 new cases per 100,000 residents reported each day.
The US reported a daily average of 763 new COVID-19 deaths in the week leading up to October 22.
The moderator also questioned the candidates about progress on vaccine development and the likelihood that Americans would have confidence in an approved vaccine.
Data on flu vaccination shows that 49.2% of people above the age of six months were vaccinated during the 2018-2019 flu season, though the Department of Health and Human Services aims for 70% of Americans to receive the flu vaccination each year.
In this segment, the candidates also discussed school reopenings, how Americans are faring in terms of mental health during the pandemic, and other economic and social indicators of the coronavirus’s impact on the US.
This section of the debate featured discussions on healthcare and the creation of a government-run insurance option, household economic wellbeing during the pandemic, and immigration.
In 2019, most Americans accessed health insurance through a private plan, with 56.4% of Americans covered through employee-sponsored private insurance. Meanwhile, 8% of Americans lacked health insurance.
As for economic wellbeing, around 6.6 million families were in poverty in 2019 before the pandemic hit, and 10% of Americans are now struggling to find food. In response to these issues, the candidates referred to government stimulus plans previously enacted during the pandemic, including both the Paycheck Protection Program and the CARES Act.
The conversation also touched on the idea of raising the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 per hour, to $15. Around 1.6 million hourly workers were at or below minimum wage in 2019, although that does not count tips and includes classes of workers exempted from the law.
On the topic of immigration, the candidates discussed the DACA program and its 644,000 recipients, as well as the asylum process and creating a path to citizenship for all unauthorized immigrants, a group estimated at 12 million in 2015.
During a segment focused on the experience of Black Americans and other minorities in the US, the candidates briefly mentioned working to increase economic opportunities. As of 2019, white Americans made up 60% of the population but owned 86% of the wealth in the country.
The conversation then turned to crime and incarceration, with a focus on prison reform and penalties for drug offenses. The adult incarceration rate in jails and prisons has declined every year since 2008, when it peaked at 1 in 100 adults incarcerated, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The rate was 1 in 120 adults in 2018, the lowest on record since 1996.
In 2019, Black Americans made up 32.8% of the total prison population while accounting for 12.5% of the US population. But while the overall prison population declined by 11.1% between 2009 and 2019, the number of Black prisoners declined by 22.6%.
Drug-related arrests accounted for 15.5% of all arrests in 2019. In 2017, 85.4% of all drug arrests were for drug possession, rather than sale or manufacture.
Near the end of the debate, the conversation turned to climate change. The candidates opened with statements about greenhouse gas emissions and sources of energy consumption in the US.
The US emitted 5.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, accounting for 14% of the world’s emissions that year. In the same year, the US ranked second among the world’s top 10 gross emitters in per capita emissions, at 15.8 tons of carbon dioxide per person.
In 2018, 80% of US energy consumption came from fossil fuel sources, including petroleum, natural gas, and coal. Energy from renewable and nuclear sources accounted for one-fifth of all US consumption in 2018, nearly double its share in 1980.
During this segment, the candidates also discussed air quality — which has improved on average in the United States since 1980, although the trends vary by location — as well as federal actions taken to manage the environment.
Explore the data on issues covered at the vice presidential debate, including economic recovery, healthcare, and voting. Or find data on the topics covered at the first presidential debate as well as those discussed in the candidates’ convention speeches.
And for more information about where the candidates stand on these issues — along with government data on each topic — visit the Voter Center.
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