August 20, 2019 | 81° F

Eagleton Institute hosts event to get students interested in their future

Photo by Courtesy of Elizabeth Mattoo |

Damilola Onifade, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, tables for RU Voting, a campus initiative designed to engage more students in the process of voting and politics, at the Rutgers University Involvement Fair on Sept. 7 on the College Avenue campus. COURTESY OF ELIZABETH MATTO

With 15 competitors running, a Republican candidate for president needs to make their positions on national issues known. One of their best opportunities is during the primary debates, the first of which took place last month.

The Eagleton Institute of Politics will host “Popcorn and Politics,” a debate watch for the Republican debate tomorrow, said Elizabeth Matto, director of the Youth Political Participation Program within the Institute.

“It’s an opportunity to watch the debate (and also to) have a free-flowing discussion on what (students) saw,” she said. “Students who are interested in coming together (can) learn about (the candidates).”

Matto said she hopes students will attend and learn about the different GOP candidates.

“A lot of us pay attention to politics for the spectacle,” she said. “I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of one-liners and zingers but we also want students to pay attention to the content. We want students to listen critically to what the candidates are saying.”

Determining if any of the candidates were aiming their comments toward college-aged voters is another goal, Matto said. There are plenty of issues that students have that other voting blocs may not, including student loan debt.

Of the 15 candidates, only Florida's Marco Rubio briefly referenced student debt in his opening remarks during the first Republican debate, she said. The topic was not mentioned again during that debate.

Candidates from all parties should reach out to millennials — individuals between the age of 18 and 33 — given they are now the largest group of potential voters in American history, she said.

“What we’re really hoping to do Wednesday is see to what extent candidates (are) reaching out to young adults,” she said.

After the debate, there will be an opportunity for students to discuss their reactions, Matto said.

There will not be any formal structure to this discussion period, she said. Students who are part of RU Voting, an initiative designed to get more students registered to vote and involved with politics, will run this conversation. Matto said topics such as the economy will hopefully be discussed.

Damilola Onifade, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she hopes students from all parts of the political spectrum will attend the event, regardless of how involved they are with politics.

“The purpose of this event is to learn,” she said in an email. “If students leave feeling more informed, then 'Popcorn and Politics' has served its purpose.”

It would be helpful for candidates to determine a focus for their campaigns, said Ahmad Atieh, a School of Engineering sophomore.

Atieh said very few have actually declared a position on issues like student debt, and he plans to have the debate on but would likely keep it in the background or only watch part of it.

The Institute is non-partisan, and so there is no preference for who can attend, Matto said. Likewise, RU Voting is a non-partisan initiative.

After the GOP debate watch, the Institute will prepare to host one for the Democratic debate taking place in October.

“There’s going to be four debates through the course of the semester and we (will have) a watch for each one,” she said.

By the end of the last debate, millennials not presently affiliated with any particular party or candidate may have decided who they want to vote for, she said.

A large number of millennials do not identify with a specific ideology, especially when compared to previous generations.

Candidates also do not typically campaign on millennial issues due to their voting record, she said.

“One thing we’re seeing with young adults in particular, because they’re an unreliable voting bloc (is that) Republicans and Democrats won’t always reach out to them,” she said.

Spending time on these potential voters is a risk, she said. There are also financial concerns for candidates who want the greatest number of votes possible.

There will be two registration drives this month, Matto said. On Constitution Day, Sept. 17, and National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 22, RU Voting will be on campus to register students.

Students unsure of how to vote, where to vote or who they can vote for can find resources on the Youth Political Participation Program’s website, she said.

“I hope that students will see that their vote matters,” Onifade said. “(I hope) through these debate watches they feel like they are given the opportunity to make an educated, informed vote.”

Nikhilesh De

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