The vice presidential debate watch party, hosted by SMU Libraries and Director of Debate and Speech Dr. Ben Voth, brought in 75 students, professors, and Dallas locals virtually and in-person Oct. 7.
About 50 people socially distanced on the Dallas Hall lawn, and 25 people joined on Zoom. The evening included a pre-debate lecture from Dr. Voth, a screening of the debate, and a post-debate discussion.
During the discussion, Dr. Voth conducted an anonymous poll where willing participants voted for the candidate they believed won the debate. Out of the 24 Southern Methodist University (SMU) student participants, 17 voted for Senator Kamala Harris, and seven voted for Vice President Mike Pence. However, Dr. Voth said in a tweet he thought Vice President Pence won the debate.
“As I think back at the many, many, many presidential debates I’ve watched, dozens really, this one had a lot of opportunities, I think, for the public to gain some insights on potential differences,” Dr. Voth said during the post-debate discussion. “Even the strong reactions that I think we’ve had so far here on the Dallas Hall lawn suggest that they said some clearer things, and that caused a reaction. I think, last week, we were just kind of puzzled because everybody was talking over each other, and it was very hard… to make any sense of it at all. But there was sense and it was contrast, which is what a debate ought to do. A debate ought to draw a contrast, and you ought to be able to see that the candidates and the campaigns are different.”
Dr. Voth said he was pleased with the way the debate process was accomplished and demonstrated what debates are supposed to do. The open-mic discussion allowed students from all parties to voice their thoughts and opinions, as well as ask Dr. Voth questions about the debate and what he expects from future debates.
“I definitely enjoyed this debate more than I did the last one,” SMU junior Karrington Bennett, a participant in the post-debate discussion, said. “I feel like there were more maturity and respect in this debate on both sides, and I do think that both sides did make some clear statements.”
Bennett said she does not like either of the candidates, but she noticed some unfairness during the debate.
“I noticed that Pence shied away from the abortion question, but then when he asked her about the Supreme Court, he tried to force her to answer that question, even though he didn’t exactly answer some the questions the moderator gave him,” Bennett said.
SMU junior Ana Paula Tirado agreed with Dr. Voth and Bennett in how the vice presidential debate was much clearer than the presidential debate two weeks ago. Tirado said she also liked the SMU half virtual, half in-person watch party idea.
“I think it’s really important for students to still have space where they can go get informed and engage in healthy debate,” Tirado said. “I’ve noticed a huge divide in our country recently, but whether you are on the right or left side, these SMU watch parties have shown me that during a pandemic, we can all still come together, enjoy each other’s company, and discuss important matters.”
SMU Libraries and Dr. Voth will be hosting another watch party for the second presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 15. Here is hoping it goes smoother than the last one.