Oct 30, 2020 | NEWS | By Flora Block | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
This past Thursday, American voters witnessed the final presidential debate before election day, as President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in the 90-minute segment.
The debate was divided into six 15-minute sections, each based around a specific policy topic. These topics included fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership.
Much like the previous debates, each candidate was given two minutes, uninterrupted, to answer each question, in which the opponent’s microphone was muted, followed by a period of open discussion with unbridled participation. The use of mute functioning on each candidate’s microphone was a development from the previous debate, and as a result, the American people witnessed an uninterrupted and thus more comprehensive synopsis of the candidates’ policy choices.
The candidates discussed their plans related to healthcare, climate change, and other policy issues. However, much of the debate paralleled what the American people have seen in the past: personal attacks, polarized opinions, and a continued myriad of unsupported claims.
This debate was particularly important to the 2020 November election, as the candidates were given a final chance to communicate their plans and policies to the American people. However, this final debate was the least watched of any other, cashing in at around 63 million viewers, 14% lower than the 74 million viewers that tuned in to the first debate.
As a result of these low viewer numbers, as well as the proximity of the debate to election day, many political analysts from major publications, such as USA Today and the New York Times, maintain that neither candidate was able to truly change the race, particularly because many Americans have already made up their mind — tens of millions of ballots have already been cast.
Although this debate had fewer national viewers, it still attracted Colorado College students and faculty, who had diverse reactions to the candidates’ performances and policies.
Some students agreed with political experts that, in this debate, neither candidate made strides toward turning voters to their side. According to Environmental Studies major Jacob Belgrad ’21, Joe Biden made potent points about his climate change policies and the volatility of fossil fuels, “[but] I don’t think the debate is going to really turn anyone to Trump or Biden. It’s kind of just solidifying people’s views.”
Political Science professor Douglas Edlin agreed. “Most people, I think overwhelmingly, are decided at this point,” he said. “People who are already planning to vote for Vice President Biden believe that he won. I think people who are already planning to vote for President Trump believe that he won … I don’t think the debate is likely to change anyone’s mind very much, although I do think it did the best job [as compared to previous debates] of informing people about the candidates’ differences of opinion on issues.”
Visiting professor for the art department Jameel Paulin, who has a specific focus in Afro-futurism and virtual reality, echoed this sentiment, saying, “I already voted … I wasn’t being skewed one way or the other [by the debate].” Paulin concurred that it was difficult to name a clear leader in the debate or in the election at large: “It’s hard to get excited … I have the overwhelming feeling that no matter who wins, we’re going to lose in the long run.”
However, despite his initial hesitancy to support Joe Biden in the election race, Paulin said, “[in this debate] Biden’s policies won out. He [made] the winning case from a policy standpoint,” but maintained that “[Donald Trump] is the more charismatic communicator … He’s more entertaining to listen to.”
Political science major and history minor Perry Lum ’21 agreed that although this final debate was “more watchable” than previous ones, “[the candidates] talked about things … but, I don’t think it was very informative … in order to understand, you needed knowledge.” However, Lum added that if anything were to influence the election, “it’s more of the personal attacks that would swing voters because it’s about their character rather than their ability to lead … It’s kind of ‘who do you believe more.’”
“[The candidates’ personal attacks against one another weren’t] productive for the American people … it’s like [they were] just slapping each other on the playground,” said political science major and journalism minor Nathalie Reinstein ’22.
When asked if there was a winner of the debate, Lum said, “[Both candidates] reached levels that were good for them.”
“This was definitely one of Trump’s better debates … better, as in informative and not just crazy … Biden did well enough to keep people, [but] I don’t think it was extraordinarily fruitful,” Lum said, clarifying, “I don’t know if you can really compare [the candidates] in a way.”
Despite the “unproductive” personal attacks and the lack of a clear winner in this debate, Reinstein stated that she maintains a “hopeful” perspective against President Trump’s reelection, citing evidence of Biden support within the military, which she observed among Air Force Academy students at the Academy’s annual conference for political science majors.
According to Reinstein, “being able to collect voters from various cohorts, not just the distinct activist left, is exactly what [Democrats] need to at least just remove this president from office.”
However, for much of the CC community, this election is not the final step.
“The main realization that I’ve been coming to in most of these debates … is that there aren’t any messiahs in politics … We in the States have this messianic view of politics, and we think that by voting in virtuous, moral people, that we can put democracy on autopilot,” said Paulin. “But there are so many forces at work against people in office that we, the governed, have to exert our own power … This election is the beginning.”