Students, faculty demanding more from candidates in future debates

Students are divided on what they would like to see in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate and subsequent ones after watching the first presidential debate Sept. 29. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Filled with interruptions and slights, the first presidential debate and the strategies used by each candidate,  divided students. 

With the vice presidential debate hours away, students have plenty of ideas on policies and topics they would like to see discussed that the first debate avoided.

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will take the debate stage at 9 p.m. Wednesday to discuss nine different topics decided by moderator and USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page.

Joshua Scacco, associate professor in the Department of Communication, said that he expects the vice presidential debate to be in stark contrast to the bickering of President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 

“The history-making nature of having Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket will probably attract a large viewership,” he said. “I would expect, if it is held, that the tone of the VP debate will be very different from the presidential debate.”

For J. Edwin Benton, a professor in the Department of Government and International Affairs, the first debate was “unorthodox.” As a result of the frequent interruptions and personal attacks, Benton said the debate could be compared to a “knockdown, drag out, 15-round, heavyweight boxing championship.”

“It was definitely a unique debate compared to the others that I have watched, studied and done research on previously,” Scacco said. “The dynamic in this race has been different. 

“You have an incumbent president who wants to run like a challenger and so he comports himself as a challenger in the way he attacks his opponents. Then you have the former Vice President Joe Biden very much acting like an incumbent would in the ways in which he communicates.”

This dynamic was certainly divisive, according to many USF students, but whether it was an effective method to win over undecided voters is up for interpretation.

“I think that [President Donald] Trump understands very well that debates are more about one-liners in the public perception than anything to do with policy positions,” freshman Anthony Cabrera said. “I think he used that strategy decently, effectively.”

While Cabrera was in favor of the harsh tone of the debate, others like senior Sarah Glaser were not.

“I feel a little bit disheartened because I was hoping the debate was going to give undecided voters more of a clear answer to their policy questions as opposed to a lot of interrupting and personal attacks,” she said.

Scacco said it was important to note that this debate was unusual in the aggressive nature it presented.

“A more traditional debate would have allowed each candidate a set amount of time to be able to express their ideas with fewer interruptions,” Scacco said. “You saw quite a bit of rule breaking during this debate and we have to remember that the Commission on Presidential Debates works with both campaigns to set the rules.”

Though some core issues were brought up by moderator Chris Wallace, it was difficult for the audience to make out any specific policy.

“I don’t think that the average citizen picked up anything of any value to help them make a decision based on learning and knowing about the candidate positional issues,” Benton said.

Some students didn’t feel that this debate addressed their policy concerns at all but rather painted a picture of the candidates’ actions if they win in November.

“If this debate is indicative of how these two men are planning to govern, it would seem Trump is not altering course and Biden has no course to take,” senior Issam Halabi said.

Even though the American people may not have gleaned much of value, according to Scacco most debates do not change the minds of many voters. This was true of students as well.

“I will still be voting for the same person that I originally planned to,” senior Amanda Suarez said. “I think the debate was more of a show than anything else. It’s a pointing fingers game. ‘Who can put on a better show? Who will create more news stories in the morning?’”

Sophomore Alexia Bianchi agreed.

“This debate had no effect on my decision about who to vote for because no new information was presented,” she said.

Despite disagreeing about how the first presidential debate played out, students on both sides of the political spectrum are looking forward to learning more about the candidates’ platforms.

Senior Nancy Foti has specific policy issues in mind that she would like to see addressed, including women’s rights and foreign relations. 

“I think they are both topics that are under the spotlight right now,” Foti said. “There have been multiple abortion laws passed that harm women who have unwanted pregnancies. I want to see foreign relations spoken about because we have not strengthened our ties with our allies and have tried to make ties with dictators like [North Korean Supreme Leader] Kim Jong Un.” 

Bianchi felt that topics like Trump’s handling of COVID-19, racial inequality and health care were covered too much.

“I would like to see more of a variety of questions in the future debates,” she said. “I think the candidates could have been asked about how each would go about creating jobs for America.” 

For Benton, people should expect a similar performance at the Oct. 15 debate. 

“I think we will see more of the same unless something comes out of the woodwork that we don’t anticipate,” he said.

But Scacco said he anticipates the debates and other campaign events will take on a different format in light of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. He predicted that in lieu of the in-person rallies that Trump’s campaign had previously hosted will be events that turn away from close contact. 

“Because of the diagnosis, I think you will see more virtual events and you will see the mixture of virtual and in-person events that we have already seen from the Biden campaign,” Scacco said.

Regardless of debate format, he said students should still tune in as Election Day gets closer.

“Do not get disengaged even after seeing a rough-and-tumble debate like the first debate,” Scacco said. “American politics is oftentimes messy. It doesn’t move in a straight line. 

“Be engaged with the political process. There are people counting on you getting disengaged.”