The first presidential debate of the 2016 election season is coming up on Monday and in the world of politics, tensions are running high.
Usually at this point in the year, most experts, and even many civilians, have at least some idea of what to expect when the two candidates face off. In this way, as in so many others, 2016 is atypical.
Here’s what we know: the debate will be held at Hofstra University, just outside of New York City. It will be moderated by Lester Holt, an ABC nightly news anchor. It will air from 9:00 to 10:30 p.m.
Here’s what we do not know: pretty much everything else.
“I really do not know what to expect from the debate,” said Catherine Kane, a teaching assistant and graduate student studying Comparative American Politics. “So much unexpected has happened over this election cycle.”
According to Stella Rouse, an associate professor of Government and Politics and the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at UMD, this election is “fundamentally different in the sense that both candidates are very, very unpopular.”
“There are a number of important issues, but whether they’ll be addressed in any detail remains to be seen,” she said. “Much of the audience will be turning in for the reality TV aspect.”
Rouse’s view of the nature of recent political trends is not uncommon. While civilian interest in the election has certainly been high this election, the polling numbers for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are currently at historic lows. Some students even argue that this election is coming down to a vote between the lesser of two evils.
“The rhetoric of this election cycle is different, and not in a good way,” Kane said. “My fear is that the debate, given the hype, as the first face-off between these two controversial candidates, will focus on some of the more media-driven issues, including a lot of jabs back and forth.”
Still, many Terps are hoping for a substantive, policy-driven debate. The most important issues that the candidates face heading into Monday night, Rouse said, are police brutality and terrorism. Given the current climate of the country, these two topics are of particular interest to concerned Americans.
According to Cane, immigration policy will be at the forefront, “especially given President Obama’s recent announcement to accept more Syrian refugees in the future.”
Clearly, a lot is at stake for both Clinton and Trump come Monday. But are the expectations for one candidate different than they are for the other?
Steven Clark, a sophomore government major and secretary of the UMD College Republicans, says, “I think [the debate] is more important for Trump…just because Clinton has been in politics, and he never has.”
“He needs to look presidential,” Clark continued. “People need to believe that he could actually be the president.”
Rouse disagreed. She said the expectations are “inevitably higher” for Clinton than for Trump. “No one’s expecting a whole lot from [Trump],” she said.
Trump only needs to show a minimal grasp of foreign and domestic policy issues in order to “get the narrative going that he did really well,” she said. Clinton, on the other hand, will be held to a higher standard because of her years of political experience.
To complicate things further, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, has been gaining unprecedented popularity and support, due likely in part to the widespread dislike of the two major party nominees. Kane said a third party candidate hadn’t received this much attention since 2000.
Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states, which is unusual for a third party candidate. However, he will not be included in the first debate because his national polling numbers have not reached 15 percent.
Yusaf Mahmood, a sophomore government major and the president of Young Americans for Liberty, a Libertarian group on campus, feels passionately that Johnson should get a chance to debate Clinton and Trump on the big stage.
“It’s absolutely insane to not let him in the debates, especially given the fact that his polling numbers among millennials are very high,” Mahmood said. “America needs to hear the Libertarian position, and know that there is an alternative from big-government Democrats and big-government Republicans.”
With so many unknowns and so much at stake, viewership of the debate is expected to be off the charts. Terps can tune in Monday night at Hoff Theater for a watch party hosted by the UMD College Republicans.
Featured image from Creative Commons.