Students Consider Candidates


Interim Director of the Honors Center Patricia Sullivan and political science Professor Nancy Kassop hosted a public viewing of the Wednesday, Oct. 3 presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney.

The screening, formally called “Public Presidential Debate Viewing with Post-Debate Discussion,” was held in the Coykendall Science Building (CSB) Auditorium.

Sullivan said the event began at 8:45 p.m. with introductions and suggestions for viewing the debate. Attendees were asked to follow claims made by candidates and the support they offered for those claims, relevant and irrelevant comments, ad hominem attacks and red herrings.

The post-debate discussion, which went until 11:40 p.m., would happen if students were interested enough to stick around for it, Sullivan said.  Depending on the audience size she said they were going to consider having people work in small groups to “process” the debate along the lines of the suggestions for the viewing.

During the discussion, Sullivan and Kassop  asked the audience if the debate helped them differentiate between the two candidates, and whether those differences were based on the issues, Sullivan said. She said that a number of audience members commented on lack of specifics on the part of both candidates.

“There did seem to be agreement, however, that the debate served the purpose of helping listeners distinguish between the two candidates based on values and philosophy,” she said.

Third-year sociology major Ashley Sanchez said she enjoyed watching the debate, although it had its flaws.

“I feel as if the two candidates didn’t let the other speak,” Sanchez said. “There was a lot of back and forth within the debate, I feel as if they were on the same topic for extremely long.”

Sanchez said she would have normally watched the debate in her room, but decided to attend the viewing because she thought there might be some extra credit involved for one of her classes.

She said she was also interested in hearing the different opinions that would be “floating around the room” as to why people had their minds set on a particular candidate to be elected.

“I wanted to see how everyone would react as the debate went on and I had never attended a debate in that fashion,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people were bashing Obama because he didn’t seem prepared and had his head down most of the time, which I disagree with.”

Sullivan said there were also discussions about the candidates’ debate styles. She said attendees seemed to agree that Romney was more aggressive in responding to questions and that Obama’s style was “flatter,” but that there were some disagreements on whether Obama’s style seemed more “presidential” than Romney’s. Sullivan said students seemed engaged with the debate and the discussion.

The premise for public debate viewings, Sullivan said,  is to avoid partisanship and focus on the substance of the event.

“That’s our aim during post-debate discussion,” Sullivan said. “Nancy Kassop studies the presidency and I study political communication. The content of the debates and rhetorical strategies in the debates correspond with our research and teaching interests.”

Sullivan and Kassop decided not to use the term “Debate-Watch” in later publicity for the event to avoid confusion between what they were doing and the type of presidential debate-watches that took place four years ago. Sullivan said there used to be a formal set up for those programs where there were specific questions to pose following the debate, and a requirement for groups to report back.

“The group that handled ‘Debate-Watch’ four years ago doesn’t exist,” Sullivan said. “Some educators have models for debate-watching but we’ve decided against doing this because the debates run so late on the East Coast.”

Sullivan said students need to watch the debates because it is their responsibility to be informed. She said that it is important for all student debate-viewers to be critical thinkers.

“This means making every effort to ‘bracket’ their predispositions and concentrate on the claims and substantiation of those claims made by the candidates,” Sullivan said.

Kassop and Sullivan will host another public debate viewing and post-debate discussion on Oct. 16, in the CSB auditorium.