Over 100 UC Irvine students gathered at the Zot Zone Wednesday night to watch five rivals for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination face off for the first time in a bid to win over America’s left-leaning voters.
The Democratic debate watch party hosted by the College Democrats at UCI (CDUCI) attracted some Irvine’s most progressive and politically active students all clamoring to cheer on their favorite candidate.
The contenders — Sen. Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee — each had the opportunity to introduce themselves to millions of Americans and highlight their policy differences which they believe make them most qualified to be President of the United States. A few set themselves apart, and a few may be abandoning their presidential ambitions soon.
“The Sanders supporters were definitely ‘feeling the Bern’ more than Clinton’s fans,” remarked fourth-year business administration major, Zachary Ferguson, a sentiment reflected by affirmative screams echoing through the long, narrow room every time Sanders spoke.
“The highlight of the night for me was when they asked Bernie if Black Lives Matter or if all lives matter, and without hesitating Bernie made it clear where he stands, with Black Lives Matter,” commented fourth-year public health policy major, Cheyda Arhamsadr.
“Everyone was tense, hoping he would say Black Lives Matter, and he did!” added Ferguson.
The room’s reception to Clinton was slightly cooler, but remained encouraging and supportive. According to the consensus of student viewers, her best moments came either at the expense of her challengers, or because of them.
In a moment of genuine wit and quick thinking, Clinton — snarky with just a hint of charm — simply answered “No.” when pressed to speak on her email controversy by Lincoln Chaffee.
Martin O’Malley’s performance failed to generate much excitement among the UCI crowd. While his progressive anti-big bank views and opposition to income inequality are in line with the views of many progressive anteaters, he lacked Sanders’ passion and authenticity, or Hillary’s years of experience performing before a crowd.
Some viewers argued that his most contentious moment came when he declared that “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.” A clear jab at the establishment candidates: Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush.
Jim Webb, purely based on reactions in the Zot Zone, had the worst showing of all the candidates. Webb’s semi-conservative positions were very much out of step with the room’s mentality, and with the political left as a whole.
“There were people being very emphatic during the debate, and whenever anyone would say something they didn’t agree with, they’d be like, ‘hell no!,’ or voice their distaste for what the candidates were saying,” Arhamsadr said in reference to the crowd’s reception of Webb, whose pro-gun stance and time complaints were poorly received.
Online polls from TIME, Slate and CNN overwhelmingly declared Sanders the winner of the night’s debate. Overall, he dominated polls with majorities as high as 81% to Clinton’s 13% of total votes. Additionally, Sanders took home victories in focus groups from CNN, Fusion and Fox News.
However, CNN, Slate and nearly every other mainstream media outlet declared Hillary the winner in spite of Sanders’ command of public polls and focus groups.
After the candidates made their final appeals, UCI students took an hour after the debate to discuss their favorite, and least favorite moments, with each other and members of the College Democrats of UCI. Sanders was decidedly the winner by an overwhelming consensus.