First presidential debate gets students talking

A half-capacity crowd of Linfield students and faculty members watched a live screening of this year’s first presidential debate Oct. 3 in Ice Auditorium, sharing their varying reactions during and after the event.

Upon entering the auditorium, Susan Carrie Sivek, assistant professor of mass communication, gave students a blue slip of paper inviting each to participate in Twitter discussion during the debate.

While President Obama and Governor Romney spoke, about half the students alternated between looking at the auditorium’s huge video projector and tweeting on their phones.

The student body seemed to favor Obama’s comments more than Romney’s. After the president finished his closing comments, the auditorium was filled with applause, whoops and hollers.

Of all the students who went to Jonasson Hall for pizza and discussion with faculty after the debate, 60 declared Obama the winner, while 12 chose Romney. Their votes were cast through secret ballots.

“Obama did well,” junior Jerry Young said in the discussion. “His facts had more truth. [Of Romney’s points,] the one that got me the most was the government taking over health care.

“That was PolitiFact’s 2010 lie of the year,” Young said.

For the student audience as a whole, the most unpopular point either candidate made seemed to be Romney’s promise to grade schools based on academic achievement.

Almost immediately after he said, “I will grade schools,” the entire auditorium seemed to let out a collective groan.

“It’s like No Child Left Behind on cocaine,” senior Chris Forrer said during the discussion.

“It doesn’t make sense because Romney says he’s all about creating jobs and education, but all the failing schools will collapse and die because parents will see [the schools’] bad grades and move their kids somewhere else. That’s counterintuitive,” he added.

Junior Samantha Javier thought Obama won because he successfully addressed college students in his comments about education, especially on keeping rates of student loans low.

“We were college students watching this, and he looked directly at us,” she said. “Romney only focused on education in general.”

As for the students who thought Romney won, most believed Obama didn’t convince them well enough that the economy was improving.

Patrick Cottrell, assistant professor of political science, and Matt Hindman, visiting assistant professor of political science, also believed Romney won.

Cottrell thought the governor won by a landslide because he successfully pivoted his messages to voters leaning to the middle, while Hindman thought it was almost a tie.

However, both agreed Romney showed more energy.

“He did show a lot of fire, and I think that will re-energize his base at least,” Hindman said.

Both also think the media will treat Romney’s energy as a victory and a change in its narrative about him.

Sivek and Jackson Miller, associate professor of communication arts, thought the debate was a virtual tie.

All four faculty members were critical of both candidates’ verbal and nonverbal communication. Most thought Romney’s communication was better in both categories, and several noted Obama’s tendency to look down at his podium with a grimace.

In contrast, however, Miller noticed Romney smiled a lot during Obama’s criticisms of his platform.

“It can undermine [Romney’s] trustworthiness when Obama was saying ‘You aren’t providing details’ and he’s just smiling,” Miller said.

Most students and faculty cited Romney’s “bullying” of debate moderator Jim Lehrer as another negative, especially to older voters.

Sivek also announced that among all Twitter comments on the debate, the word “Bird,” in reference to Romney mentioning Sesame Street’s Big Bird while talking about decreasing the national debt, started trending more than any other term.

Although both candidates had notable moments, none of the faculty members spotted any that they thought could decide the election in November.

The next presidential debate event on campus will be Oct. 11, when Linfield students and faculty will have the opportunity to see a live screening in Ice Auditorium of the vice presidential debate.

Max Milander

For the Review

Max Milander can be reached at

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