Twenty Cubed is a podcast made by WBRU in collaboration with College Reaction. Together WBRU and College Reaction poll the USA college demographic regarding student opinion on trending national issues and events. Twenty Cubed is the place for college students to openly discuss and unpack these issues with their peers. In this first season, we will be polling and discussing the 2020 presidential election. Gen-Z voters could decide this upcoming election and this podcast is your window into the minds of our generation.

In this episode, Maaike sits down with Seth and Gaby, two rising sophomores in college, to discuss their takes on the first democratic debate. 

An interview with Cyrus Beschloss, CEO of College Reaction. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Maaike: What was your personal biggest takeaway, as a fellow young person, from young people after observing these latest poll results after the first debate?

For me, it was the way that Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg seem to be the knockout winners from that first debate. In terms of which candidates impressed students the most, which candidates left students wanting to learn more about them, and which candidates ended up swaying students to their camp post debate, Kamala Harris comes out first in all three of those metrics. Pete Buttigieg glides in second for all three as well. I think this tracks closely with what most people took away from the first debate in the broader electorate but also in the college demographic.

Maaike: Biden is polling ahead of Trump and Sanders in terms of the all-around candidate preference, but you have Harris knocking it out of the park in terms of impression after the first debate. How do you look at that divide?

 We had about 26% of college students who actually tuned into the live debates, so that’s 74% of college students who weren’t actually dialed in and catching every blow by blow of the debate and all the nuances, like the powerful exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. We did have another 35% of college students who watched media clips and read about the debates after the fact, but basically there was a pretty big rift in terms of who actually tuned into the debates while they were happening live. So it does actually make sense that Kamala only bumped up a little bit in terms of the general college preference, because there’s still a pretty large swath of people that didn’t even didn’t even see her in action.

Maaike: Based on what you’re saying, the names Biden and Sanders are already immediately recognizable because of their visibility in past elections, because Biden was a vice president and Sanders ran for president. They’re reliable names that people don’t have to look up and so they’re safe?

Name recognition carries huge weight and is a massive factor for preference. Joe Biden was a vice president and Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money in 2016, which increases their visibility. I think the debates are going to be a massive new frontier for all these candidates who want to get their names out there. If a lot of candidates don’t have name recognition with the college demographic, that is definitely a liability to start with. But it’s also an immense opportunity for candidates who might be trailing, whether that’s a Beto O’Rourke [or] a Cory Booker, to actually set themselves apart if they can. It’s an opportunity if they can introduce themselves and actually drive that college demographic out to vote out to the polls.

Maaike: Looking at some of the national or state polls that pull from a variety of age ranges, Kamala Harris in Iowa was getting close to Biden by around 8 percentage points. But in polls with young people, which should be an audience she brings in, she still comes below Sanders, Warren and sometimes below Buttigieg. What do you think of that?

One thing is that I think that there a lot of college students who don’t even know Kamala Harris and who she is (Maaike: They don’t know the name you mean?). Yeah, [she] doesn’t have the name recognition. Joe Biden’s early and still present lead is largely built on name recognition and sort of perceived electability – that is, to be able to take on Trump in 2020. But Kamala definitely has the latter going for her in terms of sort of this notion that she’s going to prosecute the case against Donald Trump. She’s framed herself as a really as a potent litigator, but in terms of name recognition we don’t know how much many college students know [about] Kamala Harris. We don’t know if college students know where she stands on various issues, what her past is; they know the name, they know the face, and they might know, sort of the broad strokes. But I think that we need to take a second and get a sense of who college students actually know before we get a sense of who they like.

Maaike: Is it that people who watched fully live were more likely to be swayed to a different candidate than people who absorbed social media or news the next day?

Kamala obviously got a pretty big bump post-debate, not necessarily just with the college demographic, but more broadly. And most people attribute that to her exchange with Joe Biden, where she calls him out for his record on busing. A really poignant and mighty personal moment. It seems like if college students weren’t necessarily responding that much in terms of who their general candidate of preference was, it probably is because they didn’t even necessarily see the moment and weren’t able to take in what other people, who were changing their minds more broadly, were taking in. But the people that did tune in seemed to be most impressed by Kamala and wanting switching over into Kamala and also Buttigieg’s camp.

Maaike: Did you see candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker who seemed to have a semi-strong following pre-debate, lose some traction in your polls post-debate? It seemed like Beto was not necessarily polling that high.

         So Beto actually has been dropping in the polls, about eight percentage points since our last point in April on the subject. He has the magnetism going for him, he’s wildly charismatic, wildly present, and he’s barnstorming like no other candidate. But that [only] gets you so far. Early on, he didn’t necessarily have a lot of policies for students to sink their teeth into, and I think that that’s a big reason why people have flocked to people like Elizabeth Warren. She is a candidate built on policies. And you might very well disagree with those policies, you might very well agree with those policies, but [at least] there’s something to go on.

Maaike: In terms of thinking about policies and issues, we asked this question in the polls: ‘What issue to you as a college student is most important?’ And again, climate change came in first with economy following it. These are two words that we talk a lot about as college students, but these are very broad. I’m curious as to what your personal definition of the economy and climate is, and what do you think most college students who are participating in this poll are defining it as. 

I think the critical foundation of this is that I have my [own] definition of what those topics mean, and what different politicians should come out with policies for, but the person sitting next to me may have a completely different conception of what the economy is, what health care is, what healthcare can be, and what the economy can be. WBRU’s polling with us has found that 31% of college students think climate change is the most important issue heading into 2020. That backs up a lot of the qualitative info that we’ve been getting about young people – that there are tons of activists out there that are pushing this as an issue that needs to have been addressed yesterday, and [yet] we’re just getting to it now. [So] it seems like when it comes to climate change, it’s a matter of investing politically in some sort of aggressive policy, whether it’s the green New Deal, some sort of carbon tax, or a rollback emissions tax. Just some sort of aggressive political strategy that’s going to mitigate climate change. That seems to be the catch all that people would be buying into.

Maaike: The interest in climate change being the number one issue for college students means we as young people are thinking a lot about our future [but] our top three candidates at the moment are all white men over the age of 70. Are these the candidates that are making us think most about the future? To me, that seems so contradictory, but maybe it’s not, maybe it’s Biden and Sanders who are pushing climate change more than other candidates?

Yeah, I think that if we’re purely going by which candidates are pushing climate change front and center, Jay Inslee would be running at 99%. Everybody else would be at some variation of less than 1%, but that’s not the case. And just to confirm, Jay Inslee is even riding at sub 1% with college students. That’s why we think that name recognition and perceived likeability are such strong factors, especially with the college demographic, because you have folks like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders doing so well despite the fact that college students have listed climate change as the most important issue far and away.

Maaike: Thank you for talking with me Cyrus, and I can’t wait to talk with you again after the next democractic debate on July 30th. Make sure to check back here for more polls and data then. 

Check back for our next episode where we conduct a poll after the Democratic Debate on July 30th, and discuss how and if the youngest voting population was swayed. 

We want to hear from you!! If you’re a college student or Gen Zer from anywhere in the USA with audio content that you want to be featured on this podcast, reach out to us. Email for more info. 

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