At watch parties for the final presidential debate Wednesday night, hosted by the University of Michigan’s chapters of College Democrats and Students for Hillary as well as the College Republicans, students divided along party lines with two distinct interpretations of who won the debate and how each candidate performed.
During the debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump discussed a range of issues, from debt and entitlement reform, immigration, economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and fitness to be president.
One of the more significant moments of the debate came about halfway through, when Trump was asked if he would concede the election if he were to lose. Over the past month, the candidate has been raising concerns that the election will be rigged against him — claims that have been met with a critical response.
In response, Trump said, “I'll tell you at the time,” an unprecedented answer for a candidate in recent history.
About 40 students gathered in Angell Hall to watch the debate with the College Republicans. Before the debate, Randy Clark, a Republican candidate for state representative in Michigan’s 52nd district addressed the audience, challenging students to vote in the election and further their involvement with politics.
“Everybody wants to run and hide under a rock because they can’t stand this mess that’s going on, but you really have to get involved, you have to make a difference,” he said.
At the College Republicans watch party, LSA sophomore Amanda Delekta said she found the debate to be an overall positive experience, compared with previous debates and campaign tactics.
“I thought that it was Trump’s best debate by far, I thought he did a lot better job staying on topic and not trying to talk over people,” Delekta said. “I thought that the moderator did a lot better job making sure each candidate respected the other person and their time. So overall I thought it was a nice statement to end a brutal campaign on both sides.”
However, Delekta said she wished the candidates had discussed at greater length the issue of Supreme Court justice appointment, which she considers to be the most pressing issue of this election.
“We’ll fill at least two — possibly three — justices, which is crazy for one president, and hasn’t been done in a long time,” she said. “And that’s going to set the direction for policy in America for decades and decades.”
In response to the question, Trump said he has a list of 20 conservatives who could fill the seats as justices, emphasizing the importance of their close interpretation of the constitution, while Clinton encouraged the Senate to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
Engineering freshman Lincoln Merrill also said he felt Trump performed well in this debate, citing times when he challenged Clinton on inconsistencies in her campaign.
“From a policy standpoint, Trump definitely won,” he said. “I still think he could have kept his cool a little better … I think Trump did what he needed to do in this debate.”
He added that he felt moderator Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” performed better than moderators in previous debates.
“He hit them both equally hard on different subjects, he was the most fair of all the moderators and his performance blew me away,” he said.
In Weill Hall, about 50 students attended a debate watch party organized by College Democrats, Students for Hillary and the Michigan Democratic Coordinated Campaign.
LSA senior Olivia Rau, a member of Students for Hillary, said her organization aims to bring awareness to the issues discussed during the election and ensure that students are well informed when it comes time to vote.
“Our main goal is to get students thinking and paying attention to the issues and providing a platform for them to get exposed to what’s happening in the election,” she said.
One point of contention between the candidates that resonated with the audience came toward the end of the debate, when Wallace asked the candidates how they would resolve dwindling funding for entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, which he said account for 60 percent of all federal spending.
“Social security is going to run out in the 2030s,” he said. “And at that time, recipients are going to take huge cuts in their benefits.”
In response to the question, Clinton said she planned to raise taxes on the wealthy and use the money to add to Social Security. In contrast, Trump pointed to the Affordable Care Act, saying he would abolish it.
“One thing we have to do: repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump said.
Public Policy junior Katie Putnam said she thought this issue will play a large role in the future.
“I personally care a lot about the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “And Medicare is going to be huge coming up.”
Questions about the economy, which devolved in discussions of several scandals raised against both candidates, also drew strong reactions from both candidates.
While Trump referred to accusations about Clinton’s deletion of classified emails, Clinton brought up 2006 comments from Trump, released earlier this month, in which he bragged about touching women without consent.
“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said. “He goes after their dignity, their self worth, and I don’t think there is a woman out there who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Liliana Talwatte said she thought Hillary responded strongly to Trump’s attacks.
“I think she was fantastic,” she said. “She responded well (to Trump’s criticism).”
Putnam said that she did not expect Clinton to respond in a way that mirrored Trump’s style.
“There were some times where we were thinking that she was playing a little dirtier,” she said. “Trump was already going to do that himself.”