Union University
Union University Department of Political Science
Department of Political Science

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Students Watch Biden-Palin Debate

Oct 3, 2008

Last night, over 100 students gathered in Barefoots Joe to watch the vice presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). Before and after the debate, political science professors Sean Evans, Kevin Cooney, and Micah Watson led a discussion.

Before the debate, Dr. Evans asked some basic questions about the audience, recent issues, and the candidates. Most students were Republicans and supporters of McCain. Concerning the bailout, over half were undecided as to its merits with 27% against it and 18% for it. In terms of who was to blame for the defeat, House Republicans got the largest share of the blame but practically all students had not opinion.

Going into the debate, students had higher expectations for Palin than the public. 50% of students thought she would win the debate while 25% thought Biden would. But more importantly, 69% of students thought the vice presidential choice was important to their vote choice in November. This indicates that Palin clearly has mobilized evangelicals voters. Last week, over 90% of the students said that they identified with Palin more than any of the other candidates so the students placed a lot of hope in her ability to perform. This is especially the case since quite a few students saw the Palin interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric with even more seeing the Saturday Night Live parodies of Palin in which she was not seen in a positive light.

And the students thought that she delivered. 72% of students thought that Palin won the debate while 17% thought Biden won, and 11% considered it a draw. She also made great strides in convincing students before the debate that she was up to the challenge of being vice president and, if necessary, president. Before the debate, students were asked to rate the candidates on their experience to be president and their understanding of complex issues. Most students had little information to make decisions and practically everyone was undecided.

The post debate analysis showed otherwise. First, 77% thought Biden had the experience to be president while 69% thought Palin had the experience to to be president. While this is lower for both than most would be comfortable, the low expectations that some students had for Palin were clearly exceeded. On understanding complex issues, 93% agreed Biden could do this while 90% agreed Palin could. The students also thought that Palin was more real and natural than Biden and attributed that, in part, to her folksy language while very few thought that Biden actually hangs out at the Home Depot. So for Union students, Palin clearly passed the threshhold of competence to be president. Thus, it is not surprising that 85% of students continue to support McCain.