'Popcorn and Politics' spurs discussion of presidential candidates


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As presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) discussed topics ranging from immigration to climate change, Rutgers students came together to witness the action, popcorn in hand.

On Wednesday night, students interested in government took to the Eagleton Institute of Politics on Douglass campus for a viewing of the night's primary debate. The RU Voting team hosted the debate viewing as part of the Youth Political Participation Program (YPPP) at the Wood Lawn Mansion.

"Last semester and this semester, we've had a series called 'Popcorn and Politics' centered around the debates," said Elizabeth Matto, assistant research professor and director of the YPPP at Rutgers. "We try to hold a number of events that bring students together here at the Eagleton Institute, to engage in the political process."

The Eagleton Institute hosted two debate watches in the fall semester, and two so far in the spring semester.

The event is an opportunity for students to come together, both students with a candidate they are supporting and students who are just tuning into the political process, Matto said.

"We set up a TV in the drawing room, we have food, we have popcorn, of course," she said. "(And) this is a project of RU Voting, which is an initiative that's nonpartisan and supported by different offices on campus, and our job … is to disseminate accurate, complete information to students about the registration process and everything they need to know for election day."

A lot of that includes providing students with information about the candidates, both through making the debates accessible, and with the resources offered to students on the Eagleton Institute's website, Matto said.

At the event, students were also given the opportunity to register to vote, if they had not done so already.

"Our highlight is that we do have voter registration opportunities available, so there's (usually) a table (at our events) for students who want to register to vote," Matto said. "The New Jersey primary is not until June, but I know students are interested in voting in the primaries, so they can register here if they'd like."

Gaelen Molina, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, was part of the team that was registering students to vote on Wednesday night. She is a member of the RU Voting team and a pre-law student.

“Popcorn and Politics” is a great opportunity for students, Molina said.

"(The event) is a good way to be able to gauge how other students are feeling about the election … and (students can become) informed on the issues that candidates are talking about," she said.

Another reason students should come to events like this, she said, is that a lot of students do not have cable, and the event is a way to get access to the debate while enjoying free food.

Political participation matters, Matto said.

"We (at the Eagleton Institute) often say to students is that 'politics matters to you and you matter to politics.' Even if you think you don't care about politics or you're not interested in it, it affects you, especially at a state university," she said.

Events like “Popcorn and Politics” allow students to become more politically aware, said Ela Yalcin, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and member of the RU Voting team.

"I think it's very important that if you're living in the United States of America ... you should understand what it stands for and what its government does," Yalcin said.

Eagleton is a tool for students to explore ways to become civically engaged, Yalcin said. Through Eagleton, students discover passions on campus. 

A goal of the Eagleton Institute of Politics is to put their knowledge as political scientists to good use, by applying it for students, Matto said.

"(We) want to improve our outreach program, so … we'll do focus groups with Rutgers students about their political goals and registration, and we do that to improve our registration process, to improve our mobilization process," she said. "We want to enhance the likelihood that students are going to participate in the political process."

At the event, interest in politics varied among the student viewers, from politically active and involved students, to students who took the opportunity to register to vote in the lobby on the night of the event.

Matto said it is important that students feel welcome at the Eagleton Institute regardless of their political views or their level of political interest.

"If we can be a location where students can come together, watch the debates, be around other students who are interested in politics, engage in discussion, then we will have met our goal," she said.

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Abigail Lyon is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and theater arts. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. For more, follow her on Twitter @abily0n.


Abigail Lyon

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