Meaningful political discourse among youth voters may seem hard to find today, especially in a nation where, according to the Pew Research Center, only 50 percent of citizens under the age of 30 are registered to vote and a majority of those registered youth voters favor President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney.
However, on Oct. 17, the second Great Claremont Debate will attempt to create that discourse.
The debate, which will feature three student Democrats and three student Republicans, will be held at 7:00 p.m. in McKenna Auditorium at Claremont McKenna College. Organized by the CMC Center for Civic Engagement, the Claremont College Republicans and the Democrats of the Claremont Colleges, the debate is a follow-up to the first Great Claremont Debate, which was held April 17.
Some students say that the environment of CMC allows for a more balanced discourse than at other colleges. They attribute this to the college’s relative equilibrium between Republican and Democrat students.
“You can go into a class and have a debate about, say, the role of the military and the role of the government, the role of whatever, and there will be another side, there will be someone that will disagree with you and have the evidence and the knowledge to back it up,” Aseem Chipalkatti CM ’15 said. “Whitewashing things with the same perspective always ends up being a disservice more than anything else.”
Ian O’Grady CM ’15, a debater for the Democrats, attended the first Great Claremont Debate and said that the participants were more candid and realistic than politicians would be in an actual debate.
“In this debate I think we’re going to make headway, unlike other debates that we’ve seen that have real consequences,” O’Grady said. “We don’t have anything at stake ourselves. It’s more of an exhibition. In a real debate where there’s actually things at stake, I feel like less things are said that actually answer questions.”
Sarah Birkenthal CM ’13, also a debater for the Democrats, agreed that a student debate could be more meaningful for students than watching a debate between career politicians.
“It’s good to have a student debate so that students have a chance not just to watch the presidential debate on TV but to actually see students engaging with the issues and giving arguments and counterarguments,” Birkenthal said.
Sean Houseworth CM ’13, a Republican debater, said, “Students are more likely to relate to fellow students, and hearing them talk about the issues is going to attract their attention.”
Houseworth said he thinks that the debate will be beneficial even for students who have decided how they will vote in the 2012 election.
“I think it gets people realizing that there are clubs on campus that talk about politics and policy, and it’s good PR for us and it’s good PR for politics in general,” Houseworth said. “And it’s fun for us and hopefully it’s fun for them.”
CMC politics professor Andrew Busch, who will serve as the moderator for the Great Debate, wrote in an e-mail to TSL, “The audience can learn more about some key issues facing the country, at a depth greater than that usually found in real presidential debates, and about where the two major parties stand on those issues.”
“If the debaters do their jobs, they can even help audience members decide for whom to vote,” he wrote.
Busch wrote that he believes the debate serves an important purpose.
“Politics helps to decide what kind of country we will be living in; it helps determine whether we will be a prosperous, strong and free country, or not,” he wrote. “That means that it is extremely important to foster a political discourse that is open enough and vigorous enough to ultimately illuminate the best course.”