Joe Biden

College Community Responds to Raucous First Presidential Debate

After insults and interruptions, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced changes are coming to the format.

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From insults to interruptions, on both sides, the first presidential debate of 2020 has left a bad taste with voters, especially those in the collegiate community.

University of Chicago sophomore Sophie Hare watched the debate at home, simultaneously chatting online with her peers in the Institute of Politics. Nearly 500 students participated in the virtual watch party Monday night.

"I certainly didn’t walk away with any clear understanding of either [candidate's] position, which I think is the point of a debate. [That] made it frustrating to watch," said Hare, a public policy major.

"One thing that made me a little sad and surprised me was when Biden was talking about Beau and his service in the military, and Trump’s interjection about Hunter and his drug problem," she said. "It felt really inappropriate and mistimed."

Lucy Ritzmann moderated the virtual event and was taken aback by similar egregious moments.

"We were all pretty upset by the tone the debate took early on," said Ritzmann, a senior.

"We want to see our potential leaders talking about actual policy issues, and saying what they are going to do to help us and help our country. We didn’t really get that. You couldn’t hear what they were saying half the time," she said.

The debate was a missed opportunity to dive into policy, according to University of Chicago Politics professor, William Howell. He said instead it invoked more anger and frustration in voters.

"It was really an awful thing that happened to our country last night," said Howell, who is also the director at the Center for Effective Government on campus.

"It’s easy to pick the loser. The loser is our country, our democracy, those handful of undecided voters," said Howell.

Howell doesn't anticipate the debate to alter the dynamics of the campaign moving forward, nor does he see Biden pulling out of the next scheduled debate, despite a barrage of at times very personal attacks Monday night. He does expect format changes.

On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which sponsors televised debates, announced changes are coming to the format. In a statement saying in part, "Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.  The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly."

The next presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami.

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