Hundreds of students crowded into all four floors of Wallis Annenberg Hall to watch the first presidential debate between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday evening.
The USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics co-hosted the event, which began with a pre-debate panel entitled “Behind the Scenes: Preparing & Spinning Presidential Debates.”
The panel featured Judy Muller, an award-winning television journalist, NPR commentator and USC professor of journalism; Antonia Hernández, a Commission on Presidential Debates Board member and president and CEO of California Community Foundation; and Gordon Stables, Annenberg assistant dean of student affairs and USC director of debate and forensics.
The panelists began the discussion by explaining why this presidential debate in particular was so highly anticipated.
“This is a precious time when the American public has an opportunity to see how these two individuals respond to questions and interact, and for the public to get a sense of the person who will be in the most powerful office in the country,” Hernández said.
Muller explained that the debate was the most written-about event that’s taken place so far in the election, and that part of the reason was due to the candidates involved.
“[This debate features] the first female candidate against the first reality show candidate. Donald Trump is the draw here,” Muller said.
Muller and Hernández also both repeatedly emphasized how Clinton’s gender has impacted her media coverage throughout the campaign season.
“Hillary is being judged more harshly. It gets in the way, and I’ve seen it many times for a lot of women. If [a woman] is serious, [she’s] perceived to be angry. If a man looks serious, he’s perceived to be serious,” Hernández said. “For students viewing these debates, I’d challenge you to judge your own biases.”
Muller noted that while Trump is typically judged by whether or not he is “presidential enough,” the question surrounding Clinton is whether she is “likeable enough.”
At the beginning of the event, Stables mentioned that due to the demographics of the room, it was likely that most of the audience was rooting for Clinton. The screening of the debate itself started with cheers for Clinton and jeers for Trump.
Daniel Wahl, a sophomore majoring in business administration, was one of the few students showing support for Trump.
“I’ve never watched a presidential debate with an audience before, and clearly most people here support Clinton,” Wahl said. “I thought it was important to show support and clap for Trump. We’ll see how the popular vote goes, [because] it is hard to tell in a crowd that is about 90 percent liberal-leaning.”
The panel emphasized that the engagement of the candidates with young people is a key part of this election.
“Both candidates need to address the needs, challenges and aspirations of millennials,” Hernández said. “And it is very important for millennials to show up and vote.”
USC students had the opportunity to take this step at the event, where tables were set up for voter registration.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the event’s large turnout, and hope that it helps to engage millennial voters,” said Elisabeth Hopkins, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering.
The USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics will co-host two more debate-viewing events this campaign season, for the vice presidential debate and the next presidential debate on Oct. 4 and Oct. 19, respectively.