Who Won the Democratic Debate? Media, Students Divided



Westminster students weigh in on the presidential candidates.

After Tuesday’s Democratic primary debate, many news outlets quickly declared Hillary Clinton the winner. Politico described her performance as a “runaway victory,” and CNN said Clinton “swept confidently through the campaign’s first democratic debate.”

But a look at social media reveals a different story — one that puts Bernie Sanders, a progressive senator from Vermont, in the lead. Trending on Twitter Tuesday night was #feelthebern, with the same hashtag trending on Instagram the next day. And Sanders did so well in online polls and focus groups that The New Yorker ran a commentary on Thursday titled, “Did the Media Get the Democratic Debate Wrong?” Others in the media argued that there was no clear winner.

Similar to political pundits, Westminster students disagreed about the debate’s outcome.

“So, Hillary clearly won, but Bernie definitely showed up,” Jessica Klutts, ’16, said. “He was extremely passionate, which won him some favorability.” But, Klutts added, “Overall, Hillary was more prepared and handled everything thrown at her like the expert she is. Whether people agree with her or not, they have to recognize the experience she has.”

Olivia Wilson, ’19, does not discredit Clinton for her expertise but said that Bernie came out ahead.

“I think that Hillary and Bernie both dominated the debate, but overall Bernie won,” Wilson said. “America loves hearing Bernie speak in general. He has impeccable speaking skills, he is knowledgeable and experienced, and truly wants to earn America’s vote. He knows his platform inside out and has stuck to it through not only his entire campaign, but also his entire political career.”

The debate reached 15.3 million viewers (a record for Democrats yet still lower than the record 24 million who tuned in for this year’s first GOP debate) and covered a range of issues, including paid leave, income inequality, climate change and foreign relations. While Clinton and Sanders were busy stealing the spotlight with strong sound bites on these issues, fellow presidential hopefuls Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb faded into the background.

“What differentiates Bernie and Hillary from the rest of the democratic candidates was the specificity in their points,” Wilson said, noting that either candidate would make an excellent president. “Both did an outstanding job laying out specific plans versus just stating their platform positions, which makes the debate especially interesting and informative.”

Still, questions remain about whether Sanders, who identifies as a “democratic socialist,” is too far to the left to win the nomination, let alone a general election. And it is unclear whether Clinton, who has been the subject of many controversies, can overcome her political baggage.

Whoever wins the nomination, one thing is clear: The difference between the Democratic debate and the Republican debates was stark. As The New York Times put it, unlike the GOP, Democrats kept the drama to a minimum.

According to Wilson, Martin O’Malley said it best in his closing statement: “On this stage you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women, you didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn’t hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious belief,” O’Malley said. “What you heard was an honest debate of what will move us forward, to lead to a clean electric grid by 2050, and employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more people in the economic and social life in our country.”




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