UA students discuss importance of presidential debates

With four debates finished and about a dozen more to go, presidential debate season is up and running. Throughout the country there are mixed opinions on the necessity of tuning in to the debates, and the same is true for The University of Alabama campus.

Hunter Stewart, a senior majoring in public relations, and Taylor Alexander, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, both watch the debates and agree they are important in order to stay informed.

“It is important to know who and what you’re voting for,” Alexander said.

Another proponent for debate watching is Mark Henry, a freshman majoring in geology. He admitted that while he tries to watch all of the debates, he sometimes misses one because of his busy schedule – something he believes is true for many college students.

“They’re either busy or apathetic,” he said.

Gretchen Lund, a sophomore majoring in English and Spanish, doesn’t watch the debates not because of those reasons, but because it doesn’t cross her mind until they’ve already happened.

“At that point, I don’t feel like listening to the talking heads telling me what to think about,” Lund said.

Lund wants to form her own opinions, not have the media form them for her. She said she will tune in for the final debates in order to form an opinion closer to the primaries.

The Honors College Assembly has hosted two debate viewing parties this year, one for each party, in order to inform and generate interest in students about the campaigns and elections.

“Holding debate watch parties for the primary debates is further important,” said Megan Craig, director of civic engagement for the HCA and the coordinator and University contact for the viewing parties. “It generates more awareness about the primary elections, which are generally ignored.”

Craig said the turnout for the parties was very high. About 40 students attended the Republican debate, and at least double that amount attended the Democratic debate, in which the HCA partnered with the College Democrats.

These events are open to all students, not just those in the Honors College, so while the HCA far surpassed their attendance goals, plenty of students aren’t attending such events. Some may choose to watch the debates at home, but some are choosing not to watch at all.

One such student is Adam Woelke, a sophomore majoring in English. He opposes debate watching as he thinks debates are relatively pointless.

“I think it is important for people our age to understand major issues objectively, but I think watching debates is often misleading,” Woelke said.

Woelke feels that a lot of what is said at debates is for votes and not about a real plan. He thinks it is perfectly acceptable not to tune in at our age.

Andrew Fletcher, a graduate teaching assistant who teaches large intro-level classes in the UA department of political science, would urge students like Woelke to reconsider. He said staying informed on debates and campaigns is vital for college-aged people.

Fletcher said elections and, consequently, laws, would be remarkably different if we could motivate young voters. He said candidates assume college students aren’t paying attention, so the interests of older voters get priority.

“Now is the time to form your own opinions and start challenging the politics and world views parents, and teachers have pushed,” Fletcher said.

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