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What Exactly Did I Watch? Opinions on the Presidential Debate

Trump’s line, “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence, and I don’t think he did, either,” truly summed up the first presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle. For Democrats, hopes of an articulate and put-together Biden were quickly squashed when he gave a hoarsely voiced and unfocused first answer to a question about economic concerns. For Republicans, their belief that Biden is too old and incompetent to be in office was cemented while their candidate stated falsehoods and dodged answering multiple questions. Overall, while Biden has taken a lot of backlash and concern over his abilities, both sides performed poorly. 


The Topics

The debate covered 10 broad topics: economy, tax reform, abortion, immigration, foreign policy, democracy, race, climate change, opioids and age, while also diving into smaller topics like childcare costs, the Russia-Ukraine war and Trump’s recent Federal conviction. These topics were all relevant and ones that voters had hoped would be discussed in the debate. And while the moderators provided both candidates with focused questions for each topic, rarely did the question receive an actual straightforward answer or even an answer at all. For example, Trump did not answer a question about his reported plan to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants no matter their employment, length of time in the U.S. or parental status. Trump went off-topic around 50% of the time, while Biden went off-topic 30% of the time. 


What could be changed?

While this debate was a bit different than past debates, with a mute feature for candidates when it wasn’t their turn to speak and no live audience present, there are more changes that could be implemented for the candidates' and viewers’ benefit. Live fact-checking candidates' statements has been a popular suggestion in recent years in response to candidates on both sides often using wrong or misrepresented data to back their claims. Having questions be asked by citizens rather than a professional moderator, similar to a town hall style, is also a format that has been growing in support. 


Personal Attacks

Just like every debate since the 2016 election cycle, this one included a multitude of personal attacks between the two candidates. Biden spent roughly 34% of his time verbally attacking Trump, who spent roughly 43% of his time doing the same to Biden. While personal attacks seem like the norm in politics nowadays, it wasn’t always that way. Before 2016, debates were more about convincing the public to vote for you and outlining your views and future policy plans for the country. To combat this, bad behavior should be penalized through time addition/deduction, a point system or some other way that would incentivize both sides to stay on point and on topic.


Overall, I am very nervous about the next debate and what could happen next in this wild election cycle.


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

1 Comment


Ella Song
Ella Song
Jul 07

Hi Alison! I definitely agree that both sides did very poorly, despite the arguably more extreme backlash Biden faced.

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