Viewers watched Clinton, Trump face off as presidential race enters last six weeks

People gathered at Studio 13 in Iowa City to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26, 2016. -- photo by Lauren Shotwell
People gathered at Studio 13 in Iowa City to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26, 2016. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Voters watched the presidential candidates — Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump — face off for the first time last night in a national debate. And with the candidates on a split-screen with nowhere to hide, viewers had plenty of time to judge their facial expressions and reactions as well as their debate skills.

A slew of sites — from the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, LA Times, Politico and FiveThirtyEight — gave the debate to Clinton.

Pre-debate estimates suggested as many as 100 million viewers would tune in to watch the candidates vie for voter support in the race for the White House. Recent Iowa polls showed the candidates either neck-and-neck or with Trump in the lead.

One debate watch party hosted by Iowa City Pride at Studio 13 in downtown Iowa City focused on the importance of the debate to the LGBTQ community, especially following Trump’s release last week of an expanded list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. The proposed nominees are conservatives, many with records that show opposition to reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

“It could turn back the clocks 20, 30 years,” said Nathan Kelley, the head of Iowa City Pride.

Kelley said he organized the event in part because of concerns surrounding the future of the Supreme Court. Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year, and with two other justices over the age of 80, the next president will likely have a role in replacing potentially three or four Supreme Court justices.

“We want our community to be highly motivated this year because of what’s at stake. I hope the debate helps people make up their minds,” he said.

The topic of Supreme Court justices and LGBTQ rights didn’t come up during the debate, which focused on economics, racial justice and equality, foreign policy, cybersecurity and the candidates’ qualifications to be president. However, Kelley said he hoped it would be discussed during the next two debates in October.

Role of social media

In the darkened dance floor of Studio 13, debate viewers frequently pulled out their phones, their screens lighting up with Twitter feeds, messages or the latest fact check posted online. They weren’t alone. The debate has already been called the most-tweeted presidential debate in history.

Trump’s remark during the debate that his best quality was his temperament — and Clinton’s shoulder-shimmy response — instigated laughter among some in the room and a flurry of phone activity.


Viewers around the globe also seemed to prick up their ears at that remark, along with Trump’s comments about the use of stop and frisk, were among the top-discussed moments on both Facebook and Twitter.

A close race

Iowa has proven to be a swing state in the November election. Recent polls have shown either Trump leading over Clinton or a tied race:

    • Loras College Poll — A telephone survey of 491 likely Iowa voters from Sept. 20 to 22.
      Candidate Percentage
      Trump 39 percent
      Clinton 39 percent
      Libertarian Party Candidate Gary Johnson 9 percent
      Green Party Candidate Jill Stein 1 percent
      Undecided 13 percent
      Margin of error +/-4.4 percentage points
    • Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll — A telephone survey of 612 likely Iowa voters from Sept. 13 to 21.
      Candidate Percentage
      Trump 44 percent
      Clinton 37 percent
      Johnson 10 percent
      Stein 2 percent
      Don’t Know/No Answer 5 percent
      Margin of error +/-4 percentage points
    • Monmouth University Poll — A telephone survey of 404 likely Iowa voters from Sept. 12 to 14.
      Candidate Percentage
      Trump 45 percent
      Clinton 37 percent
      Johnson 8 percent
      Stein 2 percent
      Other/Undecided 6 percent
      Margin of error +/-4.9 percentage points
    • Simpson College/RABA Research Poll — A phone and internet survey of 1,054 Iowa voters from Sept. 6 to 8.
      Candidate Percentage
      Trump 40 percent
      Clinton 39 percent
      Johnson 10 percent
      Stein 3 percent
      Not sure 8 percent
      Margin of error +/-3 percentage points

In part, those results may reflect a dissatisfaction with the current slate of candidates. Among the respondents to the Loras poll, 58 percent said they were dissatisfied with their options.

Eric Johnson, who was in Iowa City from Van Buren County and came to see the debate at Studio 13, echoed these results.

“Honestly I wasn’t sure if I would come. I’m not a big fan of either candidate,” Johnson said, although he added that he usually leaned towards the Democratic Party.

A.J. Richard of Iowa City said the last time she watched a presidential debate might have been during a Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale debate, back in 1984. She said she wasn’t impressed with either candidate, but she found Trump’s nomination insulting.

“I wouldn’t normally watch the debates. I find politics depressing. But this is a fun atmosphere and it’s important,” Richard said.

Brenton Thompson of Iowa City said that he found it shocking that Iowa is a swing state but thought the tight polls reflected a genuine fear and concern in Iowa and around the nation about the direction of the country, especially around topics like immigration. He added that, in his view, Clinton hadn’t done a good job of managing media attention and moving the focus off of Trump. However, Thompson said he thought Clinton did a good job of not coming off as aggressive or condescending in the debate.

“I think the polls will change very quickly (after the debate),” he said.

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