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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Presidential debates only serve to solidify students' feelings about two candidates

The 2008 primary season witnessed an eight-percentage point spike in youth-voter turnout from 2000, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Although youth-voter numbers for the general election will not be officially tallied until polls close Nov. 5, interest in the three presidential debates certainly indicates that younger voters will show up in unprecedented numbers.

Tufts is no exception, as students across campus made it a priority to fit all three weeknight debates into their schedules. But students weren't necessarily tuning in to decide on a candidate: Most had already made up their minds well before the debate.

"I love watching the debates, but they did not change my opinion," freshman Vivian Mbawuike said.

"I don't think that anyone on campus heard anything differently during the debates than what they already knew," sophomore Robbie Gottlieb said.

Political Science Professor and Dean of Undergraduate Education James Glaser said that people at Tufts are more involved in the world news than most citizens and thus, had already made their decisions before watching the debates.

"Most Tufts students are more engaged than the average American citizen, so they have more settled political preferences," Glaser said.

Since many had already made up their minds, the debates only solidified their convictions. But Glaser said that having a chosen preference will force the viewer to see the debate in a different light.

"Beliefs affect perceptions," he said. "People with a strong preference for one candidate or another will view the debate through eyes that will reinforce the opinions that they started with."

Gottlieb agreed with Glaser, and said that those watching with a candidate preference only had their opinions strengthened, as neither candidate made any significant blunder.

"Even though many cable news networks and blogs reported wins for [Barack] Obama every time, I don't think we converted anyone at Tufts [who wasn't already voting for Obama] to come to the Obama camp," he said. "And in the country, I think the opinions of most people were just strengthened because they didn't see their candidate have a noticeably bad performance."

Freshman Alan Yee said that the candidates' debating skills were the only notable aspects of the debates.

"The debates have not changed my opinion. I am still voting for Obama, based on his superior debate performance," Yee said. "I think that the debates might have persuaded some students who were on the fence about choosing Obama based on his superior performance."

The only people affected by the debates were those who were undecided, Glaser said.

"The course the debates take have the largest impact on undecided voters, or voters whose attachment to a particular candidate is tenuous," he said.

While Tufts boasts a large population of politically active students, for those who do not generally pay much attention to politics, the debates gave them an opportunity to learn more about the candidates and their proposed policies.

"My decision hasn't changed but I have learned more about the candidates through the debates," freshman Caroline Wilkes said. "They are useful for people who aren't educated about the candidates."

If nothing else, the debates may have drawn more people into the political process, piqued their interest in the upcoming election and further educated them about the candidates and the issues.

"Maybe the debates got more people to register to vote," Gottlieb said.

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