Meet the voters who aren't sick of the presidential campaign

Monday's campaign debate was billed as a highly partisan clash between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But at Hofstra University, which hosted the event, political debate among students has been mostly civil and political participation has been energizing. 

Mary Altaffer/AP
Students rally near the site of the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

As they walked together through the pre-debate carnival in a Hofstra University parking lot on Monday afternoon, sophomores Kadeem Adrian and Tianna Watkins were marching with other students in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, chanting “No justice, no peace.”

But the march of some 30 students, many who held handmade political signs in support of other left-wing causes – “There is no Planet B!” – had a different kind of edge from similar protests so common on American streets today, as many were quick to say.

“The atmosphere on campus has been very calm, really,” says Ms. Watkins, not too far from the the inflated White House jumping playpen. “There’s not too much tension between everyone, and everyone is just having fun right now. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get involved in everything and have fun and pay attention to this historic debate.”

The testy clash between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump had been billed as a debate of Super Bowl proportions, and beforehand Hofstra cheerleaders and marching band were among the gaudy network TV stages – cheering, really(!), for the civic virtues of democracy rather than stormy partisanship. Despite the vitriol expressed about the candidates nationally, participation in the democratic process remains energizing, especially for the nation's newest voters.

Matt Baldassano, a second-year law student wearing a Trump/Pence T-shirt with other mostly male students, started chanting “Blue Lives Matter” when fellow students marched by. And, yes, there were a few harsh exchanges, and Trump supporters were a conspicuous minority here.

“But for the most part, everybody’s been pretty nice, no one’s gotten too angry,” says Mr. Baldassano, as the marching band played a Lady Gaga song. “We have had a few angry shouts, so it got a little divisive, you could say. But overall, it’s been pretty good around here – it’s just been democracy in action.”

First-time voters

Indeed, most of the students, even seniors, will cast their first vote this November, and they saw today as a celebration – Go Pride! – both in the fact that Hofstra houses a leading center for presidential studies and has hosted a presidential debate for three consecutive election cycles.   

“We have some of the nation’s brightest, most altruistic, most public-spirited students in America,” said Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz to the audience minutes before Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump took the stage. “You spend time with these young people, and you have to feel optimistic about the nation’s future. And we host this debate and the past two debates for them.”

The students are younger, more fresh-faced Millennials than many of the exuberant Bernie Sanders supporters or Occupy alums or #NeverHillary progressives who chanted for a “revolution” over the past year.  

“I just turned 18; this is my first time voting,” says freshman Cassie Passantino, from Wall Township in New Jersey. “I mean, it’s stressful first to think, 'OK, this is my first time voting,' like, I really need to make sure I’m making the right decision.”

“But now that the debate is here, and I’m living through history and living through the third political debate on my campus and volunteering with it,” she continues, “it makes voting so much more exciting and you really kind of see the difference you’re making, now that you’re surrounded by this.”

Anna Hogan, a senior wearing a Johnson-Weld T-shirt in support of the Libertarian ticket, doesn’t think the system was rigged against her candidates, even though they didn't meet the polling threshold to be included in the debate. There has to be some kind of qualifying cutoff, after all, but maybe 5 percent in polls rather than 15, she says.

“Then I think Gary Johnson and [Green candidate] Jill Stein should have a right to speak in the debates, and have America hear what they have to say,” Ms. Hogan continues. “If more people heard what they had to say, they would be, maybe, ‘I should look into this person more,’ and it could change a lot of things. I don’t think we should be limited to hearing just Clinton and Trump.”

Eager to participate

Her friend, Christina Betances-Orrell, is undecided, leaning toward Clinton, and hoping the debate will help her decide what she wants in a president. But she’s been turned off, she says, that “the country is split in so many ways, and this has caused a lot of conflict for people who feel so strongly about the candidates.”

Nearly 7,500 Hofstra students, or more than two-thirds of the 11,000-member student body, entered a lottery for a few hundred tickets to attend the debate on Monday. And more than 800 students applied for the some 500 positions as volunteers, officials said.

“It’s very interesting to be a part of this right now,” says Ms. Watkins. “I mean this is a crazy election, the candidates are very interesting in their own ways, it’s –"

“– it’s like a reality show – you don’t know who’s going to win,” says Mr. Kadeen, who used a magic marker to write Black Lives Matter slogans on his white Hofstra T-shirt.

“Being a first-time voter, just as an American, it's my duty to exercise my right and use my voice,” Kadeen says. “To speak up for things that I believe in, and communities I feel are underrepresented and not given a voice. I mean, we are a democracy, so why shouldn't I use my voice and speak up for what I believe?”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Meet the voters who aren't sick of the presidential campaign
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today