Debate Two: How closely did the responses match the questions?

The tone of the discussion was not the only thing that changed in the two presidential debates.

Students in an elections honors class at St. Bonaventure University graded the candidates on how closely their responses matched the questions at the two debates, grading each question on a four-point scale.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden received nearly identical scores for their answers to questions in the Sept.29 debate. Biden’s grades averaged 2.54; Trump’s averaged 2.66.

The students gave Biden’s answers in the Oct. 22 debate a 3.07 grade, and they gave Trump a 2.07 grade for his responses.

The students graded the candidates on eight questions:

QI: How would you lead the country during this next stage of the coronavirus crisis?

Q2: What is your message to parents who worry that sending their children to school will endanger not only their kids but also their teachers and family?

Q3: What would you do to put an end to this (election security) threat? 

Q4: If the Supreme Court does overturn that law, there’s 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance almost overnight. So what would you do if those people have their health insurance taken away?

Q5: The United States can’t locate the parents of more than 500 children. So how will these families ever be reunited?

Q6: I want to talk about the way Black and Brown Americans experience race in this country. Part of that experience is something called the talk. It happens regardless of class and income, parents who feel they have no choice, but to prepare their children for the chance that they could be targeted, including by the police, for no reason other than the color of their skin. Mr. Vice President, in the next two minutes, I want you to speak directly to these families. Do you understand why these parents fear for their children?

Q7: For each of you, how would you both combat climate change and support job growth at the same time?

Q8: Imagine this is your inauguration day. What will you say in your address to Americans who did not vote for you?

The students each assigned letter grades to the candidates’ answers to the debate questions. To calculate the candidates’ scores, numerical values were assigned to the letter grades the students gave to each answer. An A was worth four points, a B three points, a C two, and a D one. The points each candidate received for each answer were averaged to arrive at the final scores.

Here are some of observations from the students:

Allison Zhang: One macroscopic observation I had was Trump’s average in comparison to Biden’s. Overall, it appears that Biden performed much better than the latter in this debate. In particular, Trump’s answer to the third and fifth questions about election security and immigration were low points, both of which have been recent and large topics during his presidency. In effect, Trump’s mediocre responses allowed Biden to shine on ideals such as integrity and family values.

Amara Young: One observation I had, is that Biden did way better answering questions in this debate than in the previous debate. A second observation is that Biden had a higher rating than Trump on every single question. A third observation I had, is that Biden’s highest scores came when he was specifically asked to talk directly to the American people. A fourth observation is that Trump started off strong, as he had his highest score on the first question, but then his ability to stay on track and answer the question at hand seems to have to fizzle out.

Andrew Campbell: Biden was ahead on all of the scores, and they still didn’t do exceptionally well. They never got a 4.0 and they always strayed.

Anshu Punreddy: Trump seemed to start off pretty strong, receiving his highest score in the first question about the coronavirus crisis. However, his scores then fluctuated as the night progresses, ranging from overall scores of 1.625 to 2.626. Biden, on the other hand also started off strong, receiving his fourth highest score in for the first question, but also ended very strongly with the responses to the last 3 questions being awarded his top 3 scores (the very last question about inauguration day gave him his highest score).

Interestingly, both candidates received their lowest scores on the question about reuniting children with their parents.

Dominic Gismondi: My initial observation is one of shock, despite a number of polls claiming an unknown or contentious debate winner, our class concluded that Biden outperformed Trump in every single question, with the President overall being sixty points and a full letter grade behind Biden. I wonder at the demographic breakdown of those who graded the debate, and as such the prediction poll will certainly be enlightening. While not free of bias myself, its startling to see such a closely contested debate amounting to such a clear cut result.

Beyond that, I noticed scores took an early dip before recovering, and I think this has more to do with the questions themselves than anything the candidates were doing. The middle questions were the most contentious and do not really have a clear cut answer, and as such the score predictably falls with topics such as election security and the smuggling of children over the boarder. The scores pick up more readily towards the end, both candidates scoring no less than a 2.0 after the sixth question. While not incredible scores from either candidate, this is a sharp contrast to the first debate tracking result.

Jessica Solari: This debate was definitely better then the first debate in September. I personally believed that President Trump did a better job at answering the questions than Biden. I also went on Twitter after the debate and saw that many people agreed with my statement. The class however, did not. I do not know what my classmates’ political standings are, there could potentially be bias in the grades given to each candidate, but the results were close for some of their answers. Biden had much higher scores than Trump did for every question which resulted in his much better scores for the final results.

Justin Schultz: This debate was far more presidential, organized, and serious than the first debate. In the debate that I graded, bickering and interrupting were two of the least presidential traits that both candidates, especially President Trump, made that debate tough to watch and listen to. In this debate, maybe due to the mic muting, there was less interruption, more real debating, and less bickering. However, there was still some avoidance of the questions asked and both candidates made sure to attack the other ones family at some point.

Mary Esposito: Biden overall did a better job than Trump, but not by much.

The lowest scores came on the questions 2, 3 and 5. These questions were “what is your message to parents who worry that sending their children to school will endanger not only their kids but also their teachers and family?”, “What would you do to put an end to this (election security) threat?”, “The United States can’t locate the parents of more than 500 children. So how will these families ever be reunited?” All of these were basically testing the candidates ability to lead and what would they do in response to certain issues.

The highest score was given to Biden on the last question “Imagine this is your Inauguration Day. What will you say in your address to Americans who did not vote for you?” He answered with a way that would speak to all Americans, when Trump barely even answered this question.

Hannah Merges: I was interested to watch this debate with the addition of muted microphones. I thought that this debate was so much better than the last debate and as a Joe Biden supporter I felt more confident in his performance. The issue that I had with the first debate was that the former Vice President seemed to let the President get under his skin too much but this time he did much better. It shows in the scores of the two candidates that Joe Biden learned his lesson from the first debate.

Whesley Carey: The third presidential debate was by far more tame and civil than the first one. Additionally, the moderator did a great job giving both candidates equal time to continue speaking even after their two-minute time limit was up. The moderator also cut both candidates off pretty evenly as well. It was a little unfortunate I did not get to witness the moderator mute the microphone of a candidate while they were speaking, that would have been funny to watch. Lastly, even though I would for Trump in this election, I firmly believe his behavior over the last few months and during the debates will lead to his defeat on Tuesday.

Grading the Candidates Rubric

A – Answered the question that was asked in full. Did not deviate to other topics. Used the entire time to speak about the topic of the question.

B – Answered the question that was asked, but deviated to other topics unrelated to the question.

C – Danced around the question. Talked a lot about the topic, but never really answered what was asked.

D – Changed the topic. Said a few words related to the question, but used most of the time to talk about other topics.

F – Ignored the question. Went immediately to another topic and never addressed the question, even minimally.

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