The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) held four debates for the 2012 U.S. presidential general election, slated for various locations around the United States in October 2012 – three of them involving the major party presidential nominees (later determined to be Democratic President Barack Obama from Illinois and former Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts), and one involving the vice-presidential nominees (Vice President Joe Biden from Delaware and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin).
The CPD stipulates three criteria for eligibility: constitutionally eligible, appearance on enough ballots to potentially reach 270 electoral votes, and average at least 15% on five selected national polls. Four candidates achieved the first two criteria: Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Green nominee Jill Stein, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Only Obama and Romney also satisfy the third criterion of averaging 15% in five selected national polls and thus are the only two to appear in 2012 CPD debates.
The moderators for the debates were announced on August 13, 2012.
All four debates took place between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PDT).
Subsequently, on October 3, 2012, both campaigns executed a memorandum of understanding governing technical and administrative details of the debate. The agreement describes the role of the moderator, rules applicable to each debate, staging and seating arrangements, and ticket distribution, and was signed by Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg, general counsel of the Obama and Romney campaigns, respectively.
A non-CPD sanctioned debate, moderated by Larry King and organized by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation in protest of the CPD's monopoly of presidential debates, took place on October 23, 2012 between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EDT. Four third party candidates — Rocky Anderson, Virgil Goode, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein — took part. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were also invited, but did not participate. On October 22, the Free and Equal Elections Foundation announced a second third-party presidential debate that was originally scheduled between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EDT on October 30, featuring the top two candidates from the post-debate poll conducted after the first debate. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson were selected for the second debate using Instant run-off voting. The debate was hosted by RT. On October 28, the date of this debate was changed to November 5 due to Hurricane Sandy.
Ralph Nader hosted and moderated a 2-hour presidential debate between Rocky Anderson, Jill Stein, Virgil Goode and Gary Johnson, on November 4, 2012.