The twelve Republican presidential debates, and the four forums, are a series of political debates currently being held between the candidates for the Republican Party's nomination for the United States presidential election, 2016.
The Republican National Committee announced the 2015–2016 debate schedule on January 16, 2015. It revealed that 12 debates would be held, in contrast to the 20 debates that were held from 2011 to 2012. The announcement included which news organizations would host each debate, with Fox News and CNN having three each; Fox Business Network having two; and one each for ABC, CBS, CNBC, and a conservative media outlet to be announced.
The first live-broadcast debate occurred on Thursday, August 6, 2015 at a sports arena in Cleveland, Ohio. It was seen on the Fox News Channel by 24 million viewers, making the debate the most watched live broadcast for a non-sporting event in cable history. Due to the number of candidates running for nomination, Fox News aired two separate debates on August 6, with the less popular candidates going first, followed by the candidates with more support in the 'prime time' debate. One debate per month will follow through December 2015. The GOP candidates will debate twice in January, three times in February, and twice in March 2016.
The use of polling data has generally been criticized by polling firms such as highly regarded Marist, which temporarily suspended their national polling of preferences for the Republican nominee on the basis that the use of polling data to select the bipartisan debate field puts polling firms under pressure to produce high-precision results that are inherently impossible to provide, due to the margin of error in any statistical sampling process like a preference poll (see statistical tie for tenth place and more generally the independence of clones).
It was also pointed out by FiveThirtyEight the varying degrees of discretion that the television networks gave themselves with their distinct debate invitation criteria, noting that the polling data can only be seen as an objective method for selection of the debate participants, if the full and exact criteria are made clear in advance. The rhetoric about the pros and cons of the debate criteria, and the use of polls to winnow the field, partially displaced more substantive discussions of concrete policies that candidates are proposing.
In terms of many GOP candidates, the use of polls to winnow the field was criticized, especially by candidates with relatively low-polling numbers in August, including Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham, who both said through the media that their exclusion from the main debates could prevent them from being competitive in the primaries and caucuses.