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What Did Students Think About the First Presidential Debate?

Last night, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in what proved to be one of the most chaotic debates in the history of presidential debates. And while we’ve gotten the opinions of many political commentators (I myself watched the CNN afterparty with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash) we haven’t gotten opinions from the the students of this country.

We are the future. And even if many of us can’t vote at the age we are at, it’s important to know what your peers are thinking and to spread that word out to those who can vote.

The first thing I did was collect a quick poll on my instagram. I’m fully aware this poll is biased towards Joe Biden and not indicative of the active student range of responses across our country, but being from a more left leaning suburb, it was expected that this poll be more left leaning.

208 people viewed the poll, but only 60 people total voted on it. It totaled out to 52 votes for Biden and 8 votes for Trump, approximately 87-13 percent.

While the poll is more biased towards Joe Biden than most student polls around the country may be, it does show me that perhaps more high school students are left leaning and that more importantly, I know what the people around me are thinking.

However, percentages aren’t enough to truly gauge the thought processes of the students that voted on the poll. That’s why I went on to ask an open-ended question: “What were your thoughts on the debate?”

I received a range of responses

Most of them were bleak and hopeless. It’s sad to know that this debate has caused the students of our country to actively despair about their future. But that is what it’s caused, and their responses show just that.

M, a high school senior, believed that “Both [candidates] were inappropriate but [President] Trump blatantly broke rules and was chill with white supremacy.”

M’s response speaks to me because they are able to acknowledge the faults of both candidates, using what they saw in the debate to judge character and decorum.

President Trump’s inability to condemn white supremacy was a touching point for others who responded to the question.

J, a high school junior, said it was “unbelievable [that President] Trump doesn’t admit to white supremacy. Horrid he told proud boys to “standby”.

Many of the responses I received pertained to the decorum of both candidates.

R, a high school sophomore, thought the debate was “totally unruly. Both sides were just being plain rude.”

S, a high school sophomore, thought it was “embarrassing and scary, it seemed less and less like a formal debate every minute.”

And as B, a college freshman, adeptly put it: it was a “sh*t show.”

It’s clear that no one standing with either candidate believed they did a kind, respectful, policy-based job at debating. The debate was more personal than policy, a string of ad hominem attacks strung together in the least effective way, which brings us to our next topic.

What comments did people find inappropriate or shocking?

The second question I asked related to which comments people found to be inappropriate or not pertinent to the debate. I can name several off the top of my head. President Trump saying he brought back football, VP Biden telling the President to shut up, President Trump mocking VP Biden’s sons, VP Biden calling the President a clown.

That’s just some of it. So I asked which comments particularly stuck out to student watchers as shockingly inappropriate. Here are their responses.

H, a sophomore, said “All of [President] Trump’s comments on [Vice President] Biden’s sons.”

A, a sophomore, also believed that “[President] Trump’s comments on Biden’s son were absolutely 100% beyond belief. Not only was it irrelevant, I don’t know what [President] Trump was going to gain from that. Proving that he has no respect? Yes I know Biden is your opponent but some things you still got to hold a level of respect for, as a human. I think that part specifically spoke a lot to his character and who he is.”

A lot to unpack from A. I think it’s pretty safe to say they voted Biden on the poll. But A and H aren’t alone in their shock at President Trump’s comments about Vice President Biden’s sons.

There were five other comments that hit on this particular incident as something that shocked them.

However, Vice President Biden didn’t keep his tongue in his cheek either.

R, a sophomore, believed that “[Vice President] Biden calling [President] Trump a clown” was inappropriate and not pertinent to the matter at hand.

J, the junior from earlier, also believed “it’s wrong Biden called Trump a clown”.

The Vice President’s constant demeaning of the President was a point of contention to several others as well.

Many believed he shouldn’t have been drawn in by the President’s insults. Some, like B, a sophomore, believed that Vice President Biden “wasn’t giving out factual information about Trump, or at the very least, not giving evidence.”

Either way, both candidates told untruths during the debate at some point, which V, a junior, called a “complete and utter disaster.”

As M, a freshman, so aptly put it: “it was chaos.”

R, a Biden supporter, thinks that “[Biden] won the debate but [they] don’t think [President] Trump lost either.”

Ultimately, the students thought the debate was chaotic and unruly, and in the end, not truly a debate.

Neha Magesh is originally from Washington State, and she now studies journalism at NYU. She is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Spearhead Magazine. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, running, baking, and writing.

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