Students say first debate was more snooze than news

Brian Bakst

The first of two debates between presidential candidates Bob Dole and Bill Clinton on Sunday provided few surprises and did little to change the minds of University voters.
“It was the battle of the soundbites,” said chemical engineering junior Eric Mayer, adding that the candidates did little to address today’s popular issues.
Although both candidates displayed wit and humor and acted with greater civility than candidates in past debates, many thought the format of the debate contributed to a lack of serious discussion.
College of Liberal Arts junior Kristen Meyers said the debate was fair but unfocused. “I would’ve liked to have seen them debate a couple of issues like education and defense spending” rather than field-prepared questions, she said.
Some students suggested changing the format to allow candidates to question each other. Others suggested giving each candidate more than the alloted 90 seconds to answer questions.
Still others said the presence of a third-party candidate may have resulted in a livelier, more spontaneous debate.
Christian Schroeder, a sophomore philosophy student, did not watch the debate because he did not expect any new issues to be explored. Besides, Schroeder added, “I don’t see much of a difference between (Clinton and Dole).”
Schroeder said he would have watched the debate if a third-party candidate, such as Ralph Nader, had participated. “The range of debate is narrowed” when only two people debate, he said.
Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who received 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, was excluded from Sunday’s debate because the debate commission determined he was not a viable candidate.
“It’s lame” that Perot was left out, said Priscilla Shannon, College of Natural Resources junior.
“Nader would have questioned more fundamental issues,” than the other candidates, Schroeder said.
Dole and Clinton offered little newinformation for people who have paid attention to the campaign. For example, Clinton often referred to his campaign theme of “building a bridge to the 21st century” during the debate, while Dole stuck to his anti-drug battle cry “just don’t do it.”
“It seemed like it was made for TV. It was stuff I’ve already heard,” said Matt Fujinaka, a junior studying sociology.
But political science professor William Flanigan, who teaches a course on presidential elections, said the debates are targeted at uninformed voters. “People who really hadn’t paid much attention to the candidates or the campaign probably learned a lot,” he said.
April Hurd, a pre-medical junior, said she hoped the debate would give her a better idea of what each candidate had to offer.
Sunday’s debate wasn’t enough to persuade her to vote for either Dole or Clinton, Hurd said.
For voters who had made up their minds prior to the debate, few will probably change their vote as a result of either candidate’s performance, Flanigan said.
This was true for most students polled Monday. But Carrie Reinertsen, a mechanical engineering sophomore, said Dole’s mudslinging tactics have led her to reevaluate her decision to support him.
Edward Schiappa, a speech communications professor, said Dole needed to “kickstart his campaign” during the debate, something which Schiappa said Dole did not accomplish.
Following the debate, a CNN/Time Poll indicated that 51 percent of the viewers thought Clinton won the debate. Only 32 percent viewed Dole as the winner. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Schiappa said that even if Dole does better in the second debate, it may be too late. He added that the viewership of the next debate, judging by past years, will be less than the number who watched Sunday’s debate.
Clinton’s “solid” performance, combining confidence and coherent answers, Schiappa said, couldn’t have been better scripted.
Schiappa’s advice to Clinton for the next debate: “I wouldn’t change a damn thing. I’m quite serious,” he said. “I would use (the tape of the first debate) as a training tape.”