Who Won the Presidential Debate: What 8 Swing State Millennials From UNC Chapel Hill Are Saying

Students from across the political spectrum tuned in to watch the first presidential debate on Wednesday night at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Watch parties across campus and the Twitter-verse were in full swing. Here's a quick highlight of some immediate student reactions:

I found the that the political debate was overrun with “doomsday speeches,” talking more about what the other guy would do to ruin America than what they themselves would do to fix it. While both candidates participated in this finger pointing, the majority of it came from Romney. His strategy was to bulldoze over not just his opponent, but the moderator as well, reducing the number of topics and forcing long speeches from both candidates in order to address the sporadic, random, occasionally connected campaign slogans. I found most of what he said hard to follow, and his tone was urgent and almost verged on manic at points. It was all very uncontrolled, and not what I had hoped to see in a political debate.

Sarah Vanselous, Class of 2012, was not too keen on Romney's verbose and overpowering statements: "I think the debate showed clearly how desperate Romney (and his campaign managers) are to regain the voters trust. Romney’s first response included specific women and children in need that he has encountered during his campaign — everyone knows that you only bring in the baby card when you’re down and you know it. But did it work? I don’t think so. Obama took some cheap shots, and didn’t always have the answers or the right words to say them with, but he was easy to understand. I think Romney proved once again how out of touch he is with the reality most Americans face, or at least how out of touch he’s become now that he has the pressure of the Republican party at his back. I have no doubt he was a great governor in Massachusetts, and that that man could have been a moderate leader of America. But the Republican party and this run at the presidency has clearly changed him in a way that I feel is irreversible. He is too mixed up between what he wants to believe in and what his platform tells him he has to. Take his comment a couple weeks ago that he agreed with some points in Obamacare; how long did it take for a Republican party representative to come out and say, “No, no, we don’t actually think that”? Does America really want someone so easily swayed and so easily confused that he doesn’t remember that Canada isn’t America? I say no, and I hope that North Carolinians feel the same way after seeing the performance tonight.

Michael Hardison, Class of 2014, didn't think Mitt Romney had the content, but was able to better connect with undecided voters: "I came in expecting Barack Obama to enter the debate with the typical eloquence and charisma that he usually carries. However, it quickly became apparent to me that Mitt Romney was better prepared, more enthusiastic, and had finer tuned talking points. The President picked it up towards the middle of the debate but by that time, I thought he'd lost. While I don't think the debate has changed who I plan on voting for, I was surprised that Mitt Romney seemed to be the one that could better connect with the American people than Barack Obama." 

Students solidified their political opinions:

Brian Beaman, Class of 2015, still falls in line with Obama's policies: "Watching the debate, I felt that both candidates had a lot of good things to say. I am almost certain to vote for Obama based on his ideology for how to improve the condition of the economy and also for his position on social issues. Romney, in the debate, had many good points and articulated them well on he would help improve the status of the nation, but that’s the problem: He said them in the debate. This was a totally different Romney plan to me than what the American voters have seen for the past year. If Romney would have presented a sounder plan appealing to more middle class Americans like that we saw in the debate, then I possibly could have connected to Romney more. As a middle class citizen, I want to side with a candidate that has an eye out for people like me, and not just one who has their eye for me during a 1.5 hour debate."

Evan Ross, Class of 2012, is now feeling more energized than before in support of Romney: "Going into this debate tonight, I more or less had low expectations for Governor Romney. Given his recent gaffes and his apparent inability to connect with many important demographic segments of American, I thought that this debate highlight that. However, the Governor managed to articulate his positions well and provided a more detailed account of what he would do should he be elected. Additionally, he did more to connect to voters by making reference to the struggles of individuals he has met throughout the course of the campaign. I had high expectations for the President though. He was unable to highlight his accomplishments as president and did not respond well to criticism from Governor Romney. At times, he seemed short, angry and unsure of how to handle the questions asked of him. I'm a Republican and was going to vote for Mitt Romney anyways, given that he didn't have any particularly big scandals happen within his campaign. I wasn't excited though. However, tonight got me excited. He talked about jobs. And as a college senior graduating in two months, it's one thing that I have as what should be a top priority of any American president. This debate got me more excited and more motivated to vote for Romney. And so in a little over a month, I'll go to that polling precinct and enthusiastically vote for Mitt Romney to become the next President of the United States."

Greg Steele, Class of 2013, also sides with Romney: "I thought Governor Romney perfectly articulated the choices facing the future of America. The debate ensuing right now over the choices we face in this election may have best been personified in the debate over health care and medicare. Mitt Romney realizes that with the struggles facing those who are currently retired or near that point do not need to have their benefits challenged. However, Romney realizes that for us, the millennials, we have to face some big decisions. Mitt Romney stands for strengthening this economy to truly give everyone an opportunity at the American dream. That comes from creating a business and tax climate that incentivizes growth, rather that penalizes it. The President failed to say why the next four years would be any different that the last. I think all of us in our generation need to ask ourselves what kind of job market and future are we emerging into? The one that has been created by President Obama has failed so many recent grads and have absolutely jeopardized my own search for a better future after graduation. Mitt Romney represents the changes this economy and our future need and deserve."

Undecided voters made some shifts...

Marcus Allen Layer, Class of 2013, leaned more towards Obama's content, putting Romney's economic facts into tough question: "As an independent voter, I'm definitely in support of states being social laboratories for creativity and innovation. However, the democratic party just appealed to me more overall. Plus, they kind of touched on using state models that work for federal programs. In addition, Romney's economic policy/ deficit reduction is really funky. Don't have to be an economics major to see that."

When looking at policies and content...

Blake Lessard, Class of 2014 thought: "Mitt Romney won the debate. He was very well-prepared and well-spoken. I loved the way he showed his leadership by discussing his experience in MA. But as for his policies, his economic plan was strong. he knows how to run a successful business and he showed how he implemented all of his plans in MA. he needs to go deeper and give us more details but i was thoroughly impressed. As for Obama, I feel like he came out a little flat and I think this is just Romney's strength. Obama never had to really debate a great debater in his previous run."

Joseph Pietrafesa Jr, Class of 2015, summarizes the general reaction from many students: 

"Sometimes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. Tonight's segment of the presidential debate may have rendered this statement both refutable and irrefutable. President Obama walked into the oval office four years ago facing the nation's history worth in debt but promised to turn this around. Though it's not a one-term possibility to greatly reduce the deficit, but a plan put into action to do so is possible. Obama, as much as I would have liked him to, could not pointedly state what he had done to successfully take the country forward to reduce the deficit but only noted what still needed to be done in order to move forward on the issue. At his opposition, Governor Romney succinctly painted the state of the deficit and the President's standing within it in a few sentences.

The debate seemed to follow suit in this way. While I expected more harrowing statements from Romney (in the likes of a few of his in the past few weeks that seemed to pull him into the shadows of this race), Mitt was more aggressive on the issues and more direct toward the President than Obama was to Romney. I would have liked to see Obama grab the debate by its horns tonight and truly stand tall on his position and plans to continue as president, but it almost seemed as though Obama was trying to convince the audience and America that four more years will allow him to do what he's been planning to do all along, rather than allow him to continue the success he's made since 2008."

Regardless of political affiliation, two things are pretty widely agreed on: 1) The debate was uncontrolled, chaotic, and "an overall #$%@ show" and 2) Millennials love Big Bird!

Needless to say, we're off to the races and it'll be an exciting next few weeks. Until next week...

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Adam Jutha

B.S. Public Health - Health Policy and Management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Former member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Interests lie in health care policy, international development, and politics.

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