Democratic Candidate Town Hall
Harvard IOP and CNN bring together leading Democratic Candidates
By TUSHAR DWIVEDI
On April 22nd, CNN, in conjunction with the Harvard Institute of Politics, hosted a Town Hall of five democratic candidates: Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. While the questions and answers presented at the Town Hall drew plenty of attention both during the event and afterwards, another broader question made itself clear as the night progressed: what was the impact of the event being so Harvard-centric?
The Town Hall lasted 5 hours, with candidates answering questions largely presented by Harvard students. When asked about the structure of the event and how it impacted his major takeaways, Harvard College Junior Diego Garcia responded: “I’ve participated in live CNN events in the past, but the scale of five back-to-back Town Halls was a sight to behold. It was fascinating to see the choreography of the evening first-hand. Sitting through all five candidates’ Town Halls served to contextualize each of them and influenced who I believe the winners and losers of the night were, particularly in comparison to those who only watched along on television.” Other Harvard students seemed to be in agreement, stating that while it was “somewhat tiring to sit through five hours worth of questioning, the diversity of questions presented and the chance to compare candidates in close proximity was really helpful.”
Garcia went on to give an example of the distinction between being in attendance for the event in person and what most students would otherwise miss on a television screen. In responding to whether the event swayed his opinion on any of the candidates, Garcia said: “Frankly, I was surprised by Sen. Harris’ reluctance to take a firm stance on a number of issues. I don’t think it resonated as much on television, but after the third or fourth time she responded to a question by stressing the need to have a ‘conversation’ on the topic, there was audible laughter in the auditorium.”
The opportunity to attend such an event in person is a rare chance that, while may seem commonplace given the significant political activity and representation on Harvard’s campus, most students and youth will never have available to them. Harvard College, through the Institute of Politics as well as other student organizations, has a long and respected history of connecting students with political leaders of the world. As a result, Harvard’s influence on the Town Hall seemed almost natural to students on campus. However, the possibility of a disconnect between the student representation at the event and the interests of those around the country is also one that must be considered.
Reactions to the event, as can be seen prominently on major media publications, Twitter, and Youtube, focused just as heavily on the questions asked and topics discussed by Harvard students as the actual responses by the candidates themselves. Given that there was a strong Harvard influence on the event, it is natural to wonder whether the particular demographics and ideas present on Harvard’s campus really represent the youth of today, as the event was being branded.
When asked if there was an answer or question that was particularly interesting, Garcia responded: “I found the focus on student loan debt particularly interesting. As Harvard students, we are extremely privileged to enjoy Harvard’s generous financial aid and strong job prospects, and as such college debt is often not top-of-mind here. However, for college students in New Hampshire, which has some of the highest in-state tuitions in the country, the issue is far more pressing, and this urgency was reflected in the questions they posed to the candidates.”
The event demonstrated yet another successful integration of politically engaged and interested Harvard students and the opportunity to take part in national-scale discussions; logistically and thematically the event “ran spectacularly,” as another attendant mentioned. On a broader level, however, it is necessary to consider the significance of whether Harvard’s interests truly represent national interests and how perceptions of Harvard may skew perceptions of the candidates themselves.
Tushar Dwivedi ’20 (Tushar_dwivedi@college.harvard.edu) continues to follow the secondary discussions resulting from the Town Hall.