The First Presidential Debate: A Lasting Effect on America

Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump go head to head during the Presidential debate on Monday Sept. 26. Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo.
Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump go head to head during the Presidential debate on Monday Sept. 26. Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo.

By Jenna Billings

Public Relations Manager

Election Day is barely over a month away, and the campaign milestones that mark the time between now and Nov. 8 are significant to both candidates.

One of these milestones is the first presidential debate, which was held on Monday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump took the stage and met his democratic counterpart, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The debate was moderated by Lester Holt of NBC “Nightly News.”

Holt announced the topics he would draw from a week ahead of the debate. They included “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity” and “Securing America.” Candidates also discussed more character-centric issues, including a comment Trump made about Clinton not having a presidential look and Clinton’s alleged attempt to get President Barack Obama’s birth certificate to prove his foreign lineage.

“With approximately 20 percent of voters in the undecided and persuadable column, I would suggest that the debate on Monday night and the two that will follow have taken on extraordinary significance in this year’s contest,” said Professor and Chair of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies, Gary Rose. “The debates in this contest could very well be the crucial factors among the key swing states.”

Though the hard scientific post-debate polling has yet to be released, online polls and surveys suggested a winner of last Monday’s debate. An ABC News/Washington Post post-debate poll found a near-record margin of Americans saying that Clinton won, nearly half saying that Trump’s facts were off base.

Another poll by the Huffington Post found a similar result, with the majority of Americans citing Clinton as the winner.

While views of both candidates remain broadly negative, ABC News found that post-debate, 64 percent of Americans expressed an unfavorable opinion of Trump overall, which is up 5 points from its pre-debate number. Fifty-three percent see Clinton unfavorably, but that number did not change a great deal after the debate.

“The biggest problem for Trump is that challengers typically do better in first debates since it is the first time the public has a chance to see them on the same stage. Clinton is not an incumbent, but she is a de facto incumbent to the outsider Trump,” said Government, Politics and Global Studies Professor Dr. Steven Michels. “This was Trump’s opportunity to establish himself as a serious candidate and he failed. If he adjusts by getting more aggressive, as many of his supports would like, he will alienate the people he needs to win over.”

Two different debate-viewing parties were held on campus last Monday, where university students actively engaged in discussion following the 90-minute contest.

Dr. Rose held one debate watch party in conjunction with the College Republican and Democrat chapters on campus, as well as the AARP and the Latino Action Network. Another party, held in the Martire Building, was sponsored by Fox News and held by senior, and Spectrum Managing Editor, Jessica Chaloux, who interns as a Fox Campus Associate.

Students had their own opinions on who won the debate.

“I think Trump could have definitely capitalized more on the various scandals surrounding Clinton, especially Benghazi,” said senior Emily Kick. “That being said, I don’t think Clinton discussed enough policy-specific details to warrant a win.”

Other students discussed the moderator’s effect on debate content.

“I think that the moderator was attacking and fact-checking Trump much more scrupulously, while Clinton avoided questions and got the easier end of the stick,” said junior Tim Kelly.

Regardless of who won, the first of several debates before
Election Day is sure to have an impact on voters. Candidates will take the stage again for the second presidential debate Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9 p.m. EST.

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