More than 700 Harvard students crammed into bleachers and stairwells at the Institute of Politics to watch Wednesday’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Nominee Mitt Romney, the first of a series of opportunities for the two candidates to defend their platform positions.
The watch party, hosted by the IOP in the JFK Forum and preceded by a panel discussion, was intended to raise awareness within the University community about the events preceding the upcoming November election, IOP Director C. M. “Trey” Grayson ’94 said.
“People might be more likely to watch the debate if they can go with their friends,” he added.
Students agreed that the opportunity to attend a public viewing provided an additional incentive to attend.
“The spirit is unbelievable,” Aleeza H. Hashmi ’15 said.
Wednesday’s debate, moderated by NewsHour Executive Editor Jim Lehrer, was punctuated by a series of zingers from both candidates during the hour-and-a-half prime-time television event. Students reacted boisterously between exchanges, disagreeing with controversial claims made by either candidate or cheering after their preferred candidate’s retorts.
“It’s fun to watch it with a bunch of IOP people so that when you shout, ‘That’s not true,’ everyone else nods and agrees,” Jake W. Silberg ’15 said.
Many, however, disagreed on whom they thought performed better during the debate. Some, like Spencer L. Todd ’13, said that they thought that Romney outperformed the president.
“I think that because the main topic is the economy, it’s Mitt Romney’s strong suit, and he’s done surprisingly well,” he said.
But Jasmine S. Burnett ’16 disagreed, commending the president on his delivery.
“Mitt Romney appeared to be more snappy, but Obama came across as more well thought-out,” she said. “I think that Obama did a really good job—he stuck to the policies he’s supported all along while Romney came up with all these new things without explaining them with facts.”
Before the watch party, Grayson hosted a panel discussion at the IOP. The panelists included Carole Simpson, the first woman and first person of color to moderate a U.S. presidential debate, and Mark McKinnon, the former chief media advisor to President George W. Bush.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that debates are about style, not substance,” Simpson said during the panel. “It’s a performance art.”
In an interview with The Crimson, Simpson added that campaign viewing events, such as the one hosted by the IOP, are essential for youth engagement in politics.