By Magdalene MichalikSpecial to the Chronicle
Many Hofstra University students were absorbed in their cell phones and laptops during a panelist discussion about the importance of presidential debates.
The discussion, titled “Why Do We Have Presidential Debates?” featured panelists from the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the American Presidency, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.
These students lack interest in presidential debates because social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, are not incorporated into these national events.
“I think it's disheartening how those who run the debate reject new media because that's where people my age get news,” junior Mike Leibowitz, political science and psychology major, said.
Changing the format of the presidential debates could have a significant impact on the way college students view them, especially since students will be voting for the first time in this election.
“More interaction would be more appealing to students. The debates are really lagging in 21st century media, which really turns students away from them,” Leibowitz said.
The presidential debate at Hofstra University, which will take place on October 16th, will take the first step in evolving a traditional debate setting.
This debate will consist of a town hall format, where citizens will ask the candidates questions instead of a moderator. These citizens, who are undecided voters, were chosen by a series of Gallup Polls. The town hall format is comprised of a series of six 15-minute segments, in which one question will be dedicated to each segment.
“This format is difficult to achieve,” Meena Bose, Director of the Kalikow Center and moderator of the panel discussion, said.
“In 2008 Senator McCain and Senator Obama weren't opposed to the idea, but in Mississippi, it only went one way. Senator Obama addressed Senator McCain and Senator McCain addressed either the moderator or the TV.”
The Hofstra University Debate is the first time the Commission on Presidential Debates has adopted this particular format, according to Bose.
“We will get a better sense of the candidates and go beyond the lines they have prepared and memorized. It is more of a natural political setting than the usual Sunday morning talk show format of a journalist being in charge of the whole thing so I really think there is some value to the town hall meeting and I'm glad one is being provided,” Thomas Mann, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow, said.
Eliminating the influence of the moderator allows for the public to gain a sense of connectivity in relation to the debates.
“In a town hall format, you really illicit candidates’ opinions as opposed to what the media wants you to hear,” Liebowitz said.
Giving the public an opportunity to be a part of the political process would result in an increased awareness about events such as presidential debates.
“One of the greatest debates that I was involved in was the 2004 CNN debate. It was a web debate…like a town hall meeting but it was a virtual town hall meeting. People emailed in their questions. It was teriffic,” Howard Dean, Peter S. Kalikow Center for the American Presidency Senior Fellow, said.
“I remember this one man put up an image where he is holding up a huge AK-47 and asked us what we though of gun rights. This is really free form and I really agree with it. I think it would be really refreshing to do more types of formats like these,” Dean said.
Regardless of the type of debate being held, Hofstra University students are among a campus preparing for a major national event.
“Hofstra University students should care about the debate. Since Hofstra is hosting the debate, we have a special interest in seeing the American democratic process on campus Students should care about understanding what the candidates have to say and making an informed decision since they're voting age students and the choices they have before them,” Bose said.