Michaela Lumpert, Campus Carrier news editor
With Election day only just two weeks away, the last presidential debate will be held tonight, Oct. 22, at 8 p.m. Watching these debates can be difficult, especially for first time voters who are trying to learn what each candidate stands for and what their policies are. Both Eric Sands, and Michael Bailey, associate professors of political science and International affairs, offer students some tips and tricks on how to view presidential debates critically, as well as how to pick a candidate critically.
As Sands noted, it’s important to understand the conditions of these debates. Both campaign teams spend hours discussing what will happen at the debate and the rules and regulations of the debate. Candidates follow guidelines that were agreed upon by both campaigns and the moderator enforces them. According to Sands, the most important aspect that viewers should note is that these debates are highly scripted.
“There’s nothing spontaneous at all about these debates,” Sands said.
The debates are not necessarily authentic according to both Sands and Bailey. Most times, both candidates have a general understanding of what topics will be discussed before the debates, making the candidates very well prepared for the debates. The candidates’ primary motivation for these debates is not informing the viewers but rather, as Bailey stated, they want to seek political points.
“It’s important for any student or any audience member to know that the debate is not really designed to seek truth,” Bailey said. “They are really not designed to score points as in a forensic tournament.”
That being said as students, specifically first time voters, watch these debates, Sands and Bailey explained that they will not receive enough information about specific policies and concerns of the candidate, or what they plan to do once they are in office. It requires more research from the voters in order to make a critical decision about who they are voting for. As Bailey explained, watching these debates might not be the best option for first-time voters, unless they are watching the debates with a deeper understanding of what is actually happening.
“In terms of what is the approach a student should take I would say a little bit of critical distance,” Bailey said. “That’s probably the most important thing they have to do, recognize it’s not the best opportunity to immerse yourself in policy and you should try and understand the debate through the eyes of the debater.”
Unfortunately, there is not a one-stop guide for voters to read about each candidate, their policies and ideologies. Sands suggests that students and first-time voters begin looking at the individual campaign websites and reading directly about each candidate’s policies.
“There’s a lot of information out there but very little of it is good,” Sands said. “It is very hard, I think, for students to find quality coverage of the campaigns and the candidates.”
The media and news outlets can also be a good resource to receive information, but as Sands pointed out, these outlets often favor certain candidates, even though they say they might not necessarily be supporting one candidate. For an objective resource to read about candidates, Bailey suggests that students should look at http://www.theflipside.com which isolates a single issue and discusses what each candidate believes about it. Other websites that both professors mention as good resources are http://www.realclearpolitics.com and http://www.theweek.com which both also offer comprehensive research on both candidates and policies.
Overall, it’s important, as both Sands and Bailey explained, that first-time voters are informed. They both also stated that being informed voters does not mean using social media as the one-stop guide for information about the candidates.
“If you are using social media as a source of your political information then you are not a serious voter,” Sands said. “That is just not where an informed voter gets information about politics.”
It can be a lot of work to research candidates and understand policies, but in order to make the right choice this election day, students have to be willing to look past their social media accounts for research. According to Bailey, if students continue to use social media as their only source of information about the candidates, then they will only be receiving information that benefits their own ideas. They will not be actively trying to inform themselves on the policies of both candidates.
“It takes real intentionality to seek out other kind of opinions,” Bailey said. “Social media is mostly not about finding out truth or really finding out what’s persuasive, what it’s mostly about is surrounding yourself with people that allow you, whether you are on the left or right, to feel ok about your position.”
Because we are living in a bipartisan era, most voters are going to be voting for their party rather than their candidate of choice, Bailey explained. That is why he believes it is important for first-time voters to do their research and understand the candidates and their platforms, not just the platforms of the party.
“The reality is that policy is only a tiny portion of what people are voting on,” Bailey said. “They are voting on party and they are voting on perception and character. And I don’t think we are going to be able to talk people out of that. We may think we are voting on ideology but we are voting on party.”
Students only have a few more opportunities to understand these candidates before the ballots are cast. While watching the debate on Thursday might not be the best option, the resources above can provide students with a well-researched view of the candidates, helping them choose the best candidate that fits their beliefs.
For students on campus, Student Activities Office (SAO) is still mailing absentee ballots for students for free. To participate, just drop the completed absentee ballot off at the Krannert Info Desk, and they will mail it.
Early voting is still happening in Georgia and elsewhere, and SAO and SGA are encouraging students to have a plan ready for when they choose to vote, either in early voting times or on Nov 3.