As an already-decided voter, the differences between the foreign policies of President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Monday’s debate mattered little to Krystal Williams, a Rackham graduate student.
In the Annenberg Auditorium at the Ford School of Public Policy, most of the 200 students in attendance seemed to agree with Williams’s sentiment. Compared to the first debate three weeks ago, students didn’t seem to engage as much throughout the last matchup between Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama Monday night.
There was less cheering, less clapping and more side conversations un-related to the election. For many, the last debate was not so much a chance to hammer out a final decision, but a chance to affirm a choice they already made weeks ago.
“By this debate, I already knew, honestly,” Williams said. “But it was helpful for me to get a better gist of where they were individually with their policies.”
Only 5 percent of the audience reported that they were undecided, compared to the majority of students who responded that they already supported Obama or Romney, according to an iClicker poll staged by event organizers.
Public Policy graduate student Haven Allen — chairman of the Domestic Policy Corp, the group that organized the watch party — said he agreed that the diminished enthusiasm may be due to the fact that many students have already determined their vote.
He anticipated that some students had grown weary of the election process, the repetitive attacks by each candidate and the campaign rhetoric.
“This whole campaign cycle has been in everybody’s face so much — watching TV, all the debates,” Allen said. “If you haven’t made up your mind yet, I don’t know whether you’re waiting for someone to screw up or what it is. It’s hard for me to see that.”
Aaron Kall, the director of the University’s debate program, said another explanation for the apathy of students might be the subdued tone of this debate relative to the others.
While Obama attacked Romney with zingers and sharper criticism, still hoping to rebound from his performance in the first presidential debate, Romney was more even-tempered, concentrating on seeming presidential, according to Kall.
Kall added that as a result of Romney’s unwillingness to engage Obama this debate was decidedly less contentious and more substance-filled than the others.
“(Obama) was really on the offensive, and aggressive, and trying to still make up for his blunders in Denver,” Kall said referring to the first debate in which Obama’s performance was strongly criticized.
“(Romney) wasn’t going to engage the President. He didn’t employ any zingers. He wanted to seem presidential and above-the-fray of regular politics,” he continued.
Despite the relatively uneventful nature of the debate, some moments in the course of the contest drew more reaction among the Ford School crowd than others. When Obama rebuffed Romney’s criticism of his military policy by saying, “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” the crowd at the Ford School cheered more wildly than at any other point in the debate.
The candidates’ exchange on the bailout of the General Motors and Chrysler also drew a strong reaction, with students jeering after Romney denied that he would let them go bankrupt.
In an otherwise routine debate, Kall predicted that Obama’s aggressiveness in those moments might earn him a small gain in the polls, but otherwise do little to impede Romney’s recent upswing of momentum.
“I don’t think anything tonight will fundamentally alter the race,” Kall said. “The last two weeks of the election are going to be a real nail-biter.”