When PBS announced it would host a Democratic presidential candidates’ debate at UW-Milwaukee, students rushed to find tickets - only to find they weren’t being sold at all. Although somewhat disappointed, students remained proud to host the event and eager to watch it, even through a live screening across the street in the university Union.
An hour before the debate the union cinema’s seats were already filled with students. Many brought posters of support or protest, now rolled up in the students’ laps or propped up against the walls. Things looked the same next door, in the two large overflow screening rooms.
In this sea of young voters, it was hard to find one without a campaign button or t-shirt. Yet I found one undecided voter - Dean Sopic. He’s just 18 and without a decided political identity.
“I think this is the first step for me to get informed about what the Democrats think and put it together into who I’m ultimately going to vote for, as this will be my first time voting. I’m excited to see what they have to say and keep an open mind,” Sopic said.
The debate began with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton walking onto the stage. From each of the watch party rooms, the students erupted into cheers when Senator Sanders appeared on each projector; yet Secretary Clinton prompted only a little awkward laughter and secondhand clapping from the speakers.
Throughout the debate, big moments of student applause came after both candidates made comments about universal healthcare, debt-free college, police reform and underemployment. Based on the noise levels, these are the issues UWM students care about tonight. When the debate shifted to the topics of national security and foreign affairs, the crowds began to thin, perhaps many of the students simply had to return to studying.
One who stayed until the end is Maia Stack.
“There was a much bigger Bernie crowd than there was a Hillary crowd. I was initially for sure going to vote for Hillary, and now I’m not so sure. I was clapping for both because they both stand for things I believe in,” Stack said.
I caught back up with 18-year-old Dean Sopic to ask if the debate helped him decide.
"To be honest, after this I’m still left with more questions than answers,” Sopic admitted.
Yet Sopic says he's confident he now has a place to start his research and make a decision by Election Day.