Debating with Drinks: UNI weighs in on debate

JOSHUA DAUSENER, Copy Editor | [email protected]

Pop, pizza and pints were consumed by avid viewers at multiple watch parties that screened the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night. Watch parties close to UNI’s campus were held in the presidential room of Maucker Union, as well as the Octopus and Social House on College Street.

The debate, moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, ran from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. An estimated 84 million people tuned in as the candidates sparred on the economy, foreign policy, race relations and their respective ability to be the commander in chief.

The debate began in a civilized, friendly tone but quickly descended into something more contentious. Donna Hoffman, political science department head, said she thought the debate fell in line with the atypical nature of this presidential election cycle.

“It was certainly interesting,” Hoffman said. “It continues the theme we’ve seen in this election. There were aspects of it that were pretty unusual, pretty unorthodox.”

Hoffman went on to say that much of the debate’s atypical tone was brought about by Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was combative with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton throughout the night.

“You saw Donald Trump being very impulsive, very unusual in terms of how politicians behave in that environment,” Hoffman said. “But that’s Donald Trump being bombastic, and that’s what his supporters like about him.”

Justin Holmes, a political science professor, said he thought Trump’s combativeness hurt his performance.

“It was an absolute meltdown,” Holmes said. “In the history of television debating, I am very comfortable with saying that this is the single worst debate performance I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even close.”

Holmes cited Trump’s failure to provide detail on substantive policy, his frequent interrupting of Clinton and Holt and his tendency to ramble as reasons he believed Trump performed poorly. Holmes was more positive when describing Clinton’s performance.

“She had a really solid performance,” Holmes said. “It was not the absolute slam dunk that I’ve seen other candidates make, but it was a very solid performance.”

Holmes said he was impressed with Clinton’s knowledge on the “nuts and bolts” of policy and her calmness under pressure.

Hoffman was much more reluctant to call a winner.

“If you tuned in last night, and you were already a supporter of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, it’s highly unlikely anything you saw last night changed your mind,” Hoffman said. “You’re already entrenched in your views, and the information that you receive throughout the debate is going to be filtered through your own particular lens.”

However, no matter who won both Holmes and Hoffman said they believe debates are not as important as they are made out to be. Each professor said that debates may cause a change in momentum or a small shift in the polls, but little else.

“Winning in November doesn’t really come down to the debates,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman added that debates can be important for undecided voters, but said undecided voters are a very small demographic who perhaps receive too much media attention compared to their actual impact on elections.

Polling after the debate seems to reflect the sentiment of a healthy, but not overwhelming, victory for Clinton. A poll conducted after the debate by Public Policy Polling showed that 51 percent of voters thought Clinton won, compared to 40 percent for Donald Trump.

Both Hoffman and Holmes thought Holt performed relatively well as debate moderator. However, Holmes said he thought that while Holt asked Trump and Clinton equally tough questions, he was harsher on Trump in regard to fact checking.

“It does raise this specter of unfairness; Trump does have a little ground to push on that,” Holmes said. “Clinton was never really challenged on anything, and I’m assuming she shaded the truth in places, and she was never called on that.”

However, Holmes attributed Trump’s performance more to his bombastic debating style and tendency to interrupt Holt, rather than to any sort of bias. Holmes also noted that Holt is a registered Republican.

Aaron Friel, math and computer science double major, is a member of the Northern Iowa Democrats who was in attendance at the watch party held in the presidential room of the Maucker Union.

“Hillary was the clear winner of the debate, even if you disagree with her policies,” Friel said. “She showed up and gave the American people the decency of studying up and coming prepared.

“If UNI students were to look at the two candidates and imagine that they were their classmates, everyone would recognize Donald Trump as the person who shows up late, hasn’t done the reading and when called  on, scrambles to put together something like a coherent answer,” Friel said.

The Northern Iowan reached out to the UNI College Republicans for comment, but have not heard back as of press time.

The next debate between Trump and Clinton will be held on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. Vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine will face off for their one and only debate on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. The long anticipated election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.