Debate Watch takes closer look at upcoming election

Tracy Deutmeyer

After Sunday’s first 1996 presidential debate, the Debate Watch participants got a closer look at today’s political issues.

A 1992 study on focus groups showed there was a definite voter interest in the presidential debates, prompting the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, located in Catt Hall, to host Debate Watch activities for the state of Iowa.

Diane Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said Debate Watch is a national voter education project developed from research showing voters learned more from the debates if they watched them together.

“It stems from research that shows that people learn political information from debates that may be helpful to the voters’ decisions,” Bystrom said.

“Debate Watch is an opportunity for people to understand each other and disagree about political issues and still emerge as friends,” she said.

“We want to promote civil discourse between people with different political opinions. This way, they can learn to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Bystrom said groups from across the state of Iowa can order free packets from the Catt Center that contain a pre-debate questionnaire and an optional survey that releases result opinions.

Bystrom said she has distributed nearly 60 packets. She said there have been several calls from eastern Iowa, including groups from Waterloo, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.

“At the beginning of each debate, groups can send in their opinions about candidates and be a part of a national dialogue,” she said.

Bystrom said the center has two focuses for the project. The center is looking for facilitators for groups across the state and will also coordinate a group at ISU, which will participate in the Oct. 16 debate at the Catt Center.

The data collected from the group at ISU are sent in for national research.

Debate Watch aims to promote voter participation in the debate, but some ISU students say they just don’t have time to tune in to this year’s debates.

Ben Schwab, a sophomore in architecture, said he doesn’t plan on watching the debates.

“I’ve seen them before and I’m somewhat interested, but I’m too busy and I have other things to do,” Schwab said.

The same goes for Haisong Tan, a graduate student in chemistry, who said the debates really don’t matter to him.

“I don’t think I will watch them, I have exams next week and I’m not really interested,” he said.

Bystrom said this year’s vice-presidential debate will take place this Wednesday at 8 p.m., and another presidential debate with a town hall format will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m.