Students, faculty and citizens at UCLA and nationwide gathered Tuesday night to watch the presidential candidates face off in their second debate of the election season. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stepped into a town hall setting, this time to discuss domestic and foreign policy.
The town hall-style debate, held inside a red-and-blue-decorated auditorium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, consisted of citizens asking questions of the candidates, who each had two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for moderator Candy Crowley, chief political correspondent for CNN, to facilitate a discussion.
The Gallup Organization, a data-gathering institution, selected undecided voters to participate, according to 2012 Election Central’s website. On Tuesday night, the candidates discussed topics including energy, tax policy, higher education, women’s rights and the economy. The town hall format of the debate inherently changed the dynamic, said Mark Petracca, a political science professor at UC Irvine.
The candidates walked around the forum while answering citizens’ questions, responding to Crowley’s follow-ups and dodging each other’s jabs.
“(The format) introduces a slight element of the unknown in the way they may or may not interact with individual voters,” said Mark Sawyer, a political science professor at UCLA.
“Students have a better appreciation for this than anybody else ““ obviously there’s a big difference between sitting down in a faculty member’s office one-on-one, or going to a 400-person lecture or sitting down at a table with people in a small seminar,” Petracca said. “Each context produces different types of behavior, and different qualities of interaction.”
The candidates sometimes clashed with each other ““ a marked difference from the first debate, which many media outlets and political experts dubbed “stale.” Romney largely criticized Obama’s record over the past four years, and Obama cited the same record as proof of accomplishment. The biggest challenge for Obama was to come back from his performance in the first presidential debate two weeks ago, Petracca said.
Obama established himself as more assertive, Petracca added after the debate.
“People’s memories are short ““ that’s one of the few downsides to being an incumbent,” he said. “This means most people’s threshold is the last debate. … The question is how he can go from that cool and collected (demeanor) to a much more assertive personality without seeming disingenuous.”
Amy Lam, a fourth-year biology student who identifies as an independent, said she wanted to watch the debate to see if Obama would redeem himself from the first debate.
“I’m still deciding who to vote for,” Lam said. “I’ve been more one-sided (toward Obama) and after the first debate it kind of middled out.”
Analysts have been expecting the presidential race to get closer, Sawyer said. He anticipates the debate will not add much to how the candidates fare in the election, he added.
After the debate, the so-called results were not as clear as last time, Petracca said.
“Unlike the first debate, this debate probably pans out as a kind of tie,” he said. “Obama supporters will be happy, but so will Romney supporters.”
The final presidential debate is scheduled for next Monday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.