College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Political science professors meet to discuss the presidential debates

Dr David Speak drops a knowledge bomb about the presidential election

For the past three presidential debates, various professors met to discuss the presidential debates in real time. Our professors watched three debates with students (September 26, October 4 and 19) and held an informal conversation after each debate. The following article and image appeared in the October 28th edition of the Poly Post. 

As Donald Trump and Sec. Hillary Clinton concluded their third and final presidential debate, Cal Poly Pomona students and faculty members congregated inside the University Library to discuss what had unfolded before them.

Topics included Trump’s deflecting of comments during the debate and his emergence as an insurgent candidate, differences in evaluating standards for both candidates, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the reorganization of the Republican Party.

Mario Guerrero and David Speak, both professors at CPP’s Department of Political Science, moderated the post-debate discussion.

“It was far better than listening to CNN or MSNBC or ABC or whoever because you’re just going to hear pro-Trump or pro-Clinton supporters or pundits no matter what,” said Scott Weber, a second-year biology student. “I think hearing from people who have conservative views as students … and people who have more liberal views, in a very sophisticated and open discussion, was very beneficial.”

Weber, who identifies as conservative, an issue-oriented voter and is leaning more toward Trump this election, believes Trump showed a more political demeanor during the debate, as he was able to reroute questions, something Weber associates with “professional” politicians.

After participating in the group discussion and hearing different perspectives, Weber pondered the idea of Trump’s increased political demeanor as a tactic to show his base supporters that he can be successful as a political leader, whether in the White House or as a leader of a new faction of the Republican Party.

“I think tonight he really reinforced his position as ‘I am Trump. I am the new leader of the Republican Party,’” said Weber. “He’s showing that he can be political or politic-esque, and [it] helps reassure his hardcore supporters that he can do something in politics.”

For Spencer Cline, a second-year political science student, the final debate was what he expected. But the post-debate discussion, according to Cline, was constructive, friendly and afforded him the opportunity to hear why some people regard Trump and his proposals appealing.

“I never really thought I would put myself in the shoes of a Trump supporter,” said Cline. “Some of them are actually people who have certain concerns for this country, and I could resonate with those concerns. And the candidate that they believe resonates with them just so happens to be Donald Trump.”

Cline, a registered Democrat who is planning to cast a “protest vote” for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, believes that Trump started the first minutes of the final debate in a collected and calm state, which made him believe Trump could have won the final exchange.

“There’s always a moment in all these debates … where he just explodes and he self-destructs — really badly,” said Cline. “I feel like he did a lot better job stalling and keeping his cool in the first two debates, and I was kind of disappointed to see him self-destruct so bad in this last one.”

With a boost in the polls partially thanks to the 2005 recording in which Trump was heard making lewd remarks about women alongside then-Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush and the allegations of sexual assault from 10 women against Trump, Clinton was visibly confident throughout the debate and while snaring Trump with jab remarks, according to Cline.

“She has this very pompous attitude, which really turned me off,” said Cline. “She has this election kind of in the bag for sorts, but she does have it in the bag. She doesn’t have to act like it.”

Alex Martinez, a fourth-year kinesiology student, vocally expressed his opposition to Clinton’s pro-choice remarks during the debate, as Clinton and Trump were asked what type of Supreme Court appointments they would make if elected.

Martinez, who identifies as conservative and remains undecided on whom to vote for this election, saw Trump and Clinton on heightened levels of performance for the final debate, which, from Martinez’s perspective, was due to the final opportunity for each candidate to directly appeal to voters on a national stage. For Trump, it was remaining collected and qualifying his statements, and for Clinton, it was a more aggressive demeanor toward Trump, according to Martinez.

However, Martinez was surprised by Trump’s refusal to state a definitive answer when pressed by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace about whether he would accept the outcome of the election.

“What I'm saying now is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?” said Trump during his exchange with Wallace.

Martinez was satisfied with Wallace’s questioning of both candidates, as Wallace mostly refrained from asking trivial questions, kept the candidates on topic and kept them on time, according to Martinez.

The national debt had not been addressed until the final debate, and it became embedded in Martinez’s mind at the end of the night.

According to Wallace, the national debt is currently 77 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, which is the value of all final goods and services produced within a country’s borders within a given period of time.

Clinton’s plan will increase the national debt to 86 percent of GDP, while Trump’s plan will increase the national debt to 105 percent of GDP, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“They said both their plans are going to increase the national debt. I haven’t really looked at the national debt,” said Martinez. “They’re both going to raise it super high according to those economists.”
 
Trump and Clinton debated at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for the final debate. Both candidates participated in three presidential debates throughout the fall.