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Students Learn Politics First Hand at the Second Presidential Debate


Kenneth Sng had special seating at the Presidential Debate. As the president of the student union, he welcomed the audience for one minute prior to the debate and received more applause than the university chancellor. Sng, an economics and mathematics major is from Singapore, a country whose legislature, not the vote of citizens, elects its prime minister.

“As a result, the kinds of people that get elected to the highest office are different and as a result,” said Sng, “citizens tend to be more politically engaged here.”

More politically active students

Students are also more engaged on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. School officials held a lottery for seating in the debate hall. More than ten thousand students applied, 315 were awarded seats just hours before the Sunday night debate.

Tom Barker was one of them. He would not tell who will get his vote, but said the debate didn’t change his mind. “It’s just crazy in both directions. If you’re looking for problems in one campaign, you found them. And if you’re looking for problems in the other campaign, you found them. There are just flaws all over the place.”

Those imperfections were evident two days before the debate, as a video surfaced, in which Donald Trump made lewd comments about women. Then, Wikileaks released excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s lucrative speeches to Wall Street firms, indicating a cozy relationship with them and a difference in her private views on issues.

John Podesta talks to reporters in the spinroom. (C. Presutti/VOA)

John Podesta talks to reporters in the spinroom. (C. Presutti/VOA)

Contentious debate

The debate turned raucous from the start, with Trump on the defensive from the video, calling it “locker room talk,” and Clinton rebutting “it represents exactly who he is.” That last sentiment was echoed by the Washington University campus republicans who adopted a sign last week, reading “Trump Scares Us Too.” The club is promoting Republican Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence. “Given the events that happened last Friday, we feel pretty vindicated in our decision,” said club president Ruben Schuckit.

Despite the personal attacks, some of the topics in the debate included: the conflict in Syria, the acceptance of Muslims in the United States, tax breaks for the wealthy, and healthcare. But in the spin room, political operatives like former Presidential Candidate Ben Carson, said Americans need more issue discussion.

“This is not about Donald Trump. This is not about Hillary Clinton,” said Carson. "This is about America and what kind of a nation we are going to be.”

The spinroom following the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. The spinroom is a separate room from the debate hall where campaign operatives meet reporters immediately following the debate to give their opinions on who won.

The spinroom following the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. The spinroom is a separate room from the debate hall where campaign operatives meet reporters immediately following the debate to give their opinions on who won.

Favorite question

The debate featured a town hall format, with questions coming from social media and a group of undecided voters who sat near the candidates. The final query came from one of them. “Regardless of the current rhetoric,” said Karl Becker, “would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

The audience and the media clapped. Hillary Clinton complimented Donald Trump on his children, whom she respects. Trump said Clinton is persistent and a fighter.

It was Kenneth Sng’s favorite question of the night. “I think it’s really important at the end of the day,” he said, “that politics comes back and unites people.”

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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