Nearing the final countdown to the 2012 presidential elections, IC Democrats and IC Republicans exchanged sharp comments, smirks and glares in a campus-wide debate Tuesday in Emerson Suites.
In the end, IC Democrats were declared the winners.
In an effort to make a final appeal to college voters, the two groups discussed President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, student debt, immigration and higher education. Nearly 100 students gathered to watch the debate.
Judge Lucia Sciore, board member at the Tompkins County League of Women Voters, said though both teams did well, the Democrats’ argument was stronger.
“They were both well-matched,” she said. “I thought the Democrats had a little more strength to their arguments, and some of their rebuttals were a little stronger.”
Senior Rob Flaherty, president of the IC Democrats, said his team successfully conveyed Obama’s policies.
“We really pushed the president’s agenda, the democratic agenda, to move our country forward within the next four years,” he said.
Contestants were not judged based on their political positions but on their speaking style, factuality, posture and delivery, according to Sara Schupp, program coordinator for the First Year Experience at OSEMA and organizer of the debate. A group of faculty and staff selected the topics for the campus debates.
The IC Democrats’ team included seniors Flaherty and Stephen Burke, junior Cedrick-Michael Simmons and sophomore Gillian Nigro. The IC Republicans team consisted of sophomores Grace Demerath and Owens, freshman Ian Wiese and senior Rob Oliver, who is also the president of IC Republicans.
The opening question focused on the roles of private employers in providing a healthcare plan that provides contraceptives for female employees as laid out in the Affordable Care Act, and incited two divided arguments.
Demerath, of the IC Republicans, said the use of contraception is a personal decision for which other people should not be responsible. On the IC Democrats side, Nigro responded to the question by saying birth control is an expensive affair that most women cannot afford.
“My opponent said that it should be a personal issue, that women should buy their own birth control,” she said. “Birth control is extraordinarily expensive. It ranges from $15 to $50 a month, which is sometimes just more than women can pay.”
The two teams also clashed on the use of the term “illegal immigrants,” which the IC Democrats deemed “offensive and dehumanizing.” The Republicans responded saying the term “undocumented” was “misleading.”
The debate did not cover issues such as the budget, economy and unemployment rate in the country, which have been discussed extensively in presidential debates. However, the economy is one of the main issues of concern among young voters, according to a poll by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning at Tufts University.
Sophomore David Owens, treasurer of IC Republicans, said the arguments brought up at the debate were comparable to those discussed in recent national debates.
“Both of us had very strong arguments,” he said. “It really shows how we are just a microcosm of Washington; we are all having these same arguments.”
The event was sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs. The panel of judges consisted of Simon Gilhooley, lecturer in the politics department; Theresa Radley, assistant director of student leadership and involvement at OSEMA; and Sciore of the Tompkins County League of Women Voters. Senior Justin Pyron moderated the debate.
Wiese, of IC Republicans, said the audience was more supportive of the other team and even tended to smile a little more when the IC Democrats were talking. However, Wiese said this did not deter them.
“I think we did fine, considering that this school does have a very liberal bias,” he said. “We held our ground pretty solidly.”
Addressing this bias, IC Republicans released a new study immediately after the debate revealing what they called a “troubling lack of intellectual diversity amongst college faculty.”
Oliver conducted the study, which looked at voter registration statuses of faculty members of 30 college departments. The findings indicate that Democrats and Green Party supporters compose 92.1 percent of the college’s faculty, contrasted with 7.9 percent Republicans and conservatives. The study, which based its numbers on official Tompkins County records, found no registered Republicans in the departments of politics, history, philosophy and religion, sociology, and English, among others.
In his press release, Oliver questioned the clause of the IC 20/20 vision plan that calls for students to graduate with a multicultural competence and the ability to “live and work effectively and in harmony within a diverse society.” Oliver said this largely Democratic representation in the college’s faculty may have also influenced the topics chosen for the debate.
Reacting to these findings, Flaherty said the idea behind the study itself was an impediment to intellectual freedom.
“This idea that we should do a litmus test on our faculty for their political ideologies before we hire them, I think is more of an impediment to the culture of intellectual freedom on campus,” he said.
To some of the audience members, such as senior Alex Ogle, the debaters’ performances overshadowed the issues discussed.
“A lot of the speakers were having difficulty constructing actually strong arguments,” he said. “They were kind of falling on a lot of strawmans and things like that or just repeating the same words over and over again.”
Meanwhile, addressing the purpose of the debate, Schupp said the event was organized with the intention of encouraging young people to vote.
“It was to get people to vote, because our age group doesn’t vote nearly as much as older age groups,” she said. “But we are going to become one of the largest voting electorate groups ever by 2015.”
Research shows that political engagement and awareness, brought about by debates like these, promote not only political involvement but also thinking capacity, Felicia Sullivan, senior researcher at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, said.
Tim Hwang, president of the National Youth Association, said debates like the one at the college also embody the principles of a democracy.
“Democracy is a participatory action,” he said. “So the more that you engage young people, the more likely [it is that] they will come out and vote.”