In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, a series of presidential and vice presidential debates took place, as well as town halls for both presidential candidates. In an effort to determine how engaged the Sequoyah student body was with these events in the lead-up to the November election, The Barefoot Times sent out a poll to Sequoyah’s high school student community. Of the 28 students who responded, only 14.3% didn’t watch the first, second, and vice presidential debates.
Not only did the majority of respondents watch the debates, but they were also relatively engaged in them. 62% of students watched the entire first presidential debate. The number dropped for the Vice Presidential Debate and the Second Presidential Debate. Senior Julian Suh-Toma commented that this may have been because the vice presidential debate resembled a more traditional debate while during the presidential debate, instead of discussing policy, the candidates “seemed to go after each other’s character a lot more.” Junior Ben Parkhurst, meanwhile, accounted for the higher entertainment value of the first presidential debate by describing it as a “shouting match between two senior citizens over the last pudding cup.”
When asked if students tuned into the town halls, only two students that took our survey tuned into Donald Trump’s town hall and only one of them watched the whole thing through. Similarly, only six students watched Joe Biden’s town hall.
Less than a quarter of the students who participated in our poll said that their perspective on the candidates was affected by the debates. That leaves a staggering majority of surveyed students noting that these debates had no tangible effect on them. Parkhurst states that this might be due to the fact that this year’s debates seem more like a ploy for money or reputation and intended “less to actually persuade people.” Despite the debates’ relatively low impact on the political perspectives of surveyed students, Suh-Toma does think that presidential debates are a necessary element of the election process. He states that “it’s important … to keep politicians accountable for the promises that they make. If they say something during a debate, they are expected to follow through with it.”