Students of all political ideologies watched the first presidential debate of the general election cycle at campus watch parties held by the Young Democrats, College Republicans, and nonpartisan Baker Institute Student Forum and political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha.
On stage were Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate and businessman Donald Trump. Recent polls have shown a close race; before the debate ABC News and Washington Post had Clinton winning 42 to 40 percent with a large portion of Americans still undecided.
NBC News anchor Lester Holt moderated the debate and set “achieving prosperity,” “America's direction” and “securing America” as the themes for the 90-minute debate. The candidates debated domestic and foreign policy, including the economy, racial inequality and criminal justice reforms, and defense.
BISF president Mishi Jain said she hopes the debate would encourage students to learn more about the policy issues.
“I'm hoping that by watching the debate tonight, students become significantly more engaged with policy, not just in this election, but in many elections to come,” Jain, a McMurtry College junior, said. “There are incredibly important and sometimes complex public policy topics being discussed this election, and I hope that Rice students understand the issues and get out the vote by watching the debate tonight.”
College Republicans president Jake Blumencranz, a Brown College junior, said that the College Republicans, which declined to endorse Trump earlier this month, welcomed all Republicans to the event.
“This debate [was] a great opportunity for both of the candidates to show us their true colors,” Blumencranz said. “We are glad to see any Republican, whether they be a Trump supporter or a #nevertrumper, come on by and cheer on their preferred candidate.”
Young Democrats president David Cirillo, a Sid Richardson junior, said he hoped the debate would encourage students to vote for Clinton.
“Students and young people often are apathetic when candidates don't meet their exact ideals on some issues,” Cirillo said. “While striving for a perfect candidate is always good, I hope students see that apathy or a third party isn't the answer to this election.”
Brown freshman Phillip Hedayatnia, who identifies as a moderate, said he felt Clinton performed slightly better than Trump.
“Trump maintained strong rhetoric through most of the first two-thirds of the debate, both answering Clinton's questions with good dodges and ending his statements by refocusing the debate on the issues that mattered most to him,” Hedayatnia said. “However … Clinton hit virtually every Trump vulnerability, from his support of the birther movement, to his tax returns, to his wealth, [and] Trump largely fell apart in the last third of the debate.”
BISF plans to hold debate and election night watch parties, and will partner with the Center for Civic Leadership to register voters in neighborhoods with low voter turnout. The Young Democrats will hold voter registration drives over the next two weeks, promote canvassing opportunities and hold phone banks until Election Day. The College Republicans do not currently have any get out the vote efforts planned.