Last Wednesday, on the night of the third and final presidential debate, a focus group discussion of young voters was held in the basement of the Stark Learning Center.
The approximately 50 minute discussion, which prefaced a group-viewing of the debate, was led by Dr. Jane Elmes-Crahall, professor of communication studies.
This discussion was in many ways a follow up to a series of previous focus groups that Elmes-Crahall facilitated in her intro courses prior to the primaries. Data from the discussions were collected and analyzed by Elmes-Crahall’s class called “Controlling Spin- News, Politics and Public Relations,” which she has taught during presidential primaries since 1996.
The purpose of these discussions is to determine how young voters are responding to the election and media representations of candidates.
The focus group was attended by about 15 students between the ages of 19 and 29, 10 of which indicated that it would be their first time voting. Not only were all of the students registered, but they all indicated that they planned to vote in November.
The group consisted of five registered democrats, three registered republicans, four independents, and two unaffiliated.
When asked to rate the importance of this election on a scale of one to 10, the students’ responses ranged from 7.5 to 10, with many students rating 9’s and 10’s.
Students chalked their sense of urgency up to long term consequences, with one student pointing out that the fact that one candidate isn’t a politician motivates him to care more.
The issues brought up by the students, who were primarily communication studies majors with the exception of one engineering major, included economics, healthcare, foreign policy, national security and the environment.
As far as the candidates go, the students broadly indicated that they would like to see more in-depth discussion of the issues rather than name calling. One student described the dialogue from the candidate as being more “reactionary” than advocating anything, with much of the focus being on finding dirt on the other candidate.
In general, students wanted to see more empathy and in-depth problem solving from the candidates. One student said he’d like to see Clinton less “robotic,” while also saying that he’d like for Trump to “answer the questions and shut up.”
Students described the election and relations between the candidates as “hostile,” “immature,” “childish” and “like a circus.”
When a poll was taken prior to the debate, the results were as follows: Hillary Clinton- 7, Donald Trump- 3, Jill Stein- 2, Gary Johnson- 1.
The students agreed that Trump had the most to gain from this final debate, but they all seemed solidified in their decisions.
When asked what it would take for the debate to sway his decision, one student responded “a miracle.”