Democratic debate lacks student presence

Royal Purple Staff Opinion

Feb. 23, 2016

With both Democratic candidates trying to get an endorsement from millennial voters, you’d think the audience at their UW-Milwaukee debate two weeks ago would have reflected that demographic. But it did not.

Instead, UW-M students were given the chance to win a ticket to the debate after registering for a raffle that awarded 25 tickets to students – just 25 tickets on a campus with an enrollement of more than 28,000.

If audiences do not in any way reflect the demographics of the venues the debates are staged at, what’s the point in having them? It would be beneficial to people watching from home if the audience was nonexistent or remained silent, given the influence they have in determining which candidate “won” the debate.

The various ways an audience responds to candidates and their back and forth exchanges goes a long way in influencing popular opinion about the debates. Especially to the viewer at home, the audience cheering or booing is the only way to get a sense of the actual climate at the event.

Not to mention, audience noise draws the attention of the media and is more likely to determine headlines than any policy differences between the candidates.

If debate audiences remained silent, people watching or streaming from home, along with the reporting media, would not be influenced by what some might view as a “stacked audience.” Viewers would only see and hear the rhetoric to go along with each candidate’s respective policies.

As it is, audiences are made up of donors and party affiliates, who are free to cheer and sneer with biased opinions, unfairly influencing outcomes. Because of this, the editors at the Royal Purple find the lack of student admission to the debate at UW-M troubling.

One would think the progressive candidacies that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders often boast about would have a vested interest in allowing students to see their debate, to learn about their policies regarding higher education, the student debt crisis and affordable tuition first-hand.

Likewise, one would assume the university would be more concerned with allowing its students to participate in the debate as well; to applaud or jeer with the rest of the audience at such an important time in the election process.

But instead, less than a fraction of a percent of UW-M’s student population was given the chance to attend. Also, many classes were canceled the Thursday afternoon because the university reserved parking for the actual debate audience. One doesn’t have to be the keenest of observers to ask, just who was in the audience, and why was their parking more important than classes?

Look no further than Donald Trump to hear an accusation of “debate stacking.” Trump said a few weeks ago in New Hampshire that the audience at the last GOP debate was stacked against him with “donors,” “special interests” and “the people that are putting up the money.”

This isn’t to say that the democratic debate in Milwaukee was stacked with hectic Hillary hailers or boisterous Bernie bros. There’s not enough evidence to make those claims. What we do know, however, is there was an audience present – an audience that could have given its impression on the candidates, and therefore helped determine who won.

And that audience contained just 25 students.

Here at the Royal Purple, we find the lack of student voice at the Milwaukee debate ridiculous. The fact that the university’s Student Association was only given 25 debate tickets to raffle off is unfair, and we’d like to hear the reasoning for such small student representation.

Politicians are always talking about getting young people to the polls. If the Democrats want to keep the White House, they need to get young people excited about voting.

They’ll never accomplish this if students are barely allowed to attend debates on their own campuses.

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