Last night, a room full of students, local community members, members of the media, faculty, staff, photographers, organizers, a moderator, and two speakers all gathered in a lecture room in Morgan Hall on WIU’s campus. In this lecture room, a presidential mock debate ensued with its aim of providing students with the information they need about this year’s upcoming presidential election.
Dr. Bill Polley, associate professor of economics, represented presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Dr. Tom Sadler, also an associate professor of economics, represented President Barack Obama. During the mock debate, Polley and Sadler yielded questions about the United States’ economy by moderator Jonathan Day, assistant professor of political science. Polley and Sadler saved some time to talk to me about their own preparations for the debate, as well as what they hope students will ultimately learn about this year’s presidential candidates.
Dr. Polley initially saw a mock debate as a graduate student studying at the University of Iowa. He said it was back in 1996 when Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton. “It was two professors from the economic department, and they did essentially what we’re going to do tonight. One [professor] took the Dole platform, and another took the Clinton platform and had a debate,” he began. “It has been sixteen years since then, and throughout the years…every time elections come around, I think ‘we should do this.’”
Fast-forward to 2012, and Polley was finally able to do what he has been wanting to do for years. He began talking to Assistant Professor of Economics Jessica Harriger, who ultimately helped coordinate the event. Then, he asked Dr. Sadler to be a part of the mock debate and represent Barack Obama’s platform. “One day…we have offices next to each other…and I say ‘wanna do this?’” Polley laughed.
Sadler and Polley have been busy preparing for the mock debate for months. Dr. Sadler said, “Initially it was a little bit overwhelming looking at all the material. I started narrowing it down more recently when we picked more specific topics. For a lot of questions, I had to go and see what Obama actually said. I always had to ask myself, ‘what does Obama think about this?’”
Both Sadler and Polley agreed the mock debate was very new and challenging for them. “We’re used to time frames being fifty minutes or an hour-and-fifteen minutes,” Sadler said. “When I was going over my material, I have a lot more to say than thirty seconds. I’m going to try and make the important points first, then [elaborate].”
During the Presidential Mock Debate, a set of ten pre-decided questions determined by the moderator, were asked of the candidates. The first candidate had ninety seconds to explain. The other candidate would have two minutes to responded, then finally, the original candidate would give final points in thirty seconds.
After the ten questions were debated by the candidates, students had the opportunity to get involved. They wrote questions on note cards and submitted them to the moderator. Students even had the opportunity to tweet questions live during the debate.
When it comes down to it, the students exercising their right to vote really is the reason behind the mock presidential debate, said Polley and Sadler. “I hope students will have a basic understanding of what the big issues and basic stances are in this campaign,” Polley said. “[I hope students will] come away with an understanding of what the issues are, then take away what we say here, and watch the remaining debates and read the newspaper. Most of all, [I hope students] vote.”
Sadler continued, “I think in the end [voting] is the most important thing. What we’re doing tonight is not only emphasizing the vote, but to make sure it counts. In the end, not only is it the case that they go out and vote, it needs to be an informed vote.”
Now that WIU’s mock presidential debate is over, I personally feel like I have a better understanding of what each candidate wants economically. Statistics were provided during the debate, and they revealed Americans feel that the economy is the most important topic in this year’s election. Thanks to last night’s debate, many students have something to think about when they step into the voting booth next month.