Cameron University students continue participation in presidential debate study

Forty-one Cameron University students again participated in a presidential debate study conducted by the University of Missouri, joining almost 400 college students across the country. Following the second presidential debate, results of the study revealed that, among college-aged students, Hillary Clinton again outperformed Donald Trump on the debate stage. Nearly 400 college students viewed the debate and completed questionnaires before and after the “town hall” style contest. In research compiled by the group in the last four presidential cycles, Clinton’s six-point gain in evaluations is the second highest increase - behind her record-setting 10-point increase among college-aged students in the last debate. Results also indicate that a majority of participants who had heard of Trump’s recently released remarks disparaging women believed the comments should disqualify him from serving as President.

“I’m quite proud of the number of Cameron students who participated in the two debate studies,” says Dr. Justin Walton, who hosted the students at the invitation of Dr. Mitchell McKinney, University of Missouri. “Their opinions matter. Their participation in this study is great way to get their political views officially chronicled.”  

Before the debate, participants were asked if they had heard about remarks made by Trump in 2005 that recently were released to the public by The Washington Post. Among participants:

  • 67 percent had heard about Trump’s comments;
  • Of those who had heard overall, 52 percent said the comments were disqualifying for Trump as a presidential candidate;
  • 61 percent of female respondents and 41 percent of male respondents believed the remarks to be disqualifying;
  • 82 percent of respondents who’d heard about the 2005 “Access Hollywood” comments believed that it would significantly hurt his chances of being elected.

“These numbers indicate that the 48 hours between the release of Donald Trump’s comments and his debate performance Sunday night has had a negative effect on Trump’s standing with these younger voters,” says McKinney, professor of communication and director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri.

Before and after the debate, participants were asked to record which candidate they were most likely to vote for and support. Results showed similar responses to the first debate, with Clinton gaining support and Trump’s support remaining constant. Clinton’s second debate performance increased students’ likelihood of voting for her from 45 percent before the debate to 50 percent afterward. In the first debate, likelihood of voting for Clinton increased from 43 percent to 54 percent.

Trump’s second debate performance did not increase the likelihood of student viewers voting for him, with 32 percent reporting so before the debate and 32 percent reporting so afterward. Undecided participants went from 23 percent before the debate to 18 percent after.

“If one of the most important measures of a debate performance is to win over undecided voters, then Trump has not done that in these first two debates,” McKinney says.  Among participants in the study, 43 percent self-identified as Democrats, 40 percent as Republicans, and 17 percent as Independents.

“Trump appears to be having a difficult time growing the tent through these debates,” Walton says. “He has one opportunity left, so it will be interesting to see what happens.”

Candidate evaluations before and after the debate indicated similar results to the first debate with Clinton improving her evaluations and Trump remaining relatively unchanged. Using a “feeling thermometer” from 0-100, evaluations of Clinton rose from 38 degrees before the debate to 44 degrees after the second debate. In the first debate, evaluations of Clinton went from 38 to 48 degrees. Evaluations of Trump after the second debate went from 30 degrees before the debate to 31 degrees, while in the first debate his evaluations dropped slightly from 28 to 27 degrees.

“It seems like our students enjoyed the town hall format, but several commented that they would have liked to have heard more citizen-based questions and less talk from the moderators,” Walton says.

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October 11, 2016

PR #16-151