Rutgers Debate Watch: Students look on as Trump and Clinton go head-to-head


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Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

Students watched Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off at the first presidential debate at various watch parties, including the Eagleton Institute of Politics “Popcorn and Politics” event on Monday night.


Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump went face-to-face on issues of foreign policy, the economy and tax reform for two hours during the highly anticipated presidential debate that aired on national television.

The Eagleton Institute of Politics held its annual "Popcorn and Politics: Presidential Debate Watch" on Monday night to encourage student involvement in the upcoming election. Several other institutions on campus held debate watches, including Residence Life, which used the new video board at The Yard.

Elizabeth Matto, director of the Youth Political Participation Program at Eagleton, said debate watches are only one of the ways the institute helps students become informed voters.

"Here at the institute we're always talking and thinking about politics, but students, especially the first few weeks of the semester are just trying to get acclimated. Especially (first-years), for some of them this is the first election they've ever voted in," Matto said. 

The opening arguments featured clashes between Trump and Clinton on issues surrounding the economy, with Clinton calling her rival’s plan for tax cuts for the wealthy “trumped up, trickle down” economics. 

Debate moderator Lester Holt pressed the candidates on the issue of police brutality and strained race relations in the country, which have recently been dominating the news after a black man, Keith Scott, was shot and killed by officers in Charlotte last week. The fatal shooting sparked four days of protest in the city. 

“We need to do a better job on working to get their communities … to try to deal with this problem,” the former Secretary of State said. 

Trump, on the other hand, defended the use of stop-and-frisk police strategies, saying, "African-Americans and Hispanics are living in hell. You walk down the streets, you get shot."

The two candidates also went back-and-forth on Clinton's private email server and Trump's history of company bankruptcies.

Sandy Giacobbe, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, watched the issues be debated last night while attending Eagleton's event.

"I'm a part of the Law and Politics LLC (Living Learning Community) so we all decided to come here and watch the debate tonight," Giacobbe said. "This is one way to come together and gather information about the two main candidates in this election."

Matto said debate watches have the potential to shift students' attention to politics and offer a venue for students of varying ideologies to engage in discussions.

"It's really important for students to understand that if they want to vote in the election they have to register," she said, adding that the voter registration deadline for New Jersey is Oct. 18.

With the voter registration deadline coming up in two weeks, Matto said Eagleton is amping up efforts to support students who are trying to tune into the election.

"For today's event the focal point is going to be the debate itself, we're encouraging students throughout the debate to look at it and think about it critically," she said.

Debate watches spreads awareness about the need for citizens to be politically active, Giacobbe said.

"You can just tell by the polling numbers how many Americans do vote and it's a very low number, close to half, and it should really be a higher number," he said.

Carlos Hurtado, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said social media is deeply engrained in the political atmosphere and allows students to learn more about the candidates.

"The debate is one of the few opportunities that ordinary voters have of hearing about real policy instead of attack ads, and it is encouraging to see that people care about it," he said. 

Eagleton is heading the "RU Talking to Me?" initiative, Matto said, in which the institute encourages students to think critically about the election.

"We're encouraging students to think critically about the campaign when they're talking about issues that matter to young adults," she said. "We're encouraging students to, when they're noticing that, maybe put something on twitter, we have the hashtag #RUtalkingtome."


Sanjana Chandrasekharan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.


Sanjana Chandrasekharan

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