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Production, Participation and Presidential Politics

Drake community engages in political discourse while hosting nationally televised presidential debate

After months of intensive planning and preparation, six Republican presidential hopefuls assembled in Sheslow Auditorium to discuss their political convictions.

The GOP debate, held earlier this month, engaged Drake students in the American electoral process and brought national attention to the University.

A packed house watches the debate in Sheslow Auditorium.

Campus was immersed in the complex media and political production, which was televised in prime time by ABC News and moderated by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. Hundreds of journalists representing worldwide news agencies were on hand to report on the debate’s outcome.

Rachel Paine Caufield, associate professor of politics and director of Drake’s Iowa Caucus Project, says that the debate provided myriad opportunities for students to become involved with a news production of national caliber and interest.

“An unprecedented number of Drake students are actively engrossed in the 2012 election,” says Paine Caufield. “Most universities envy that kind of political engagement, excitement and energy.”

Debate provides Drake students with opportunities

Earlier this year, the Drake University Student Senate established a committee to coordinate opportunities for student engagement during the 2012 presidential election. Sam Pritchard, a sophomore marketing major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, serves as its chair.

“Preparing for the debate provided my fellow committee members and myself with a phenomenal opportunity to become involved on campus,” Pritchard says. “We wanted students to become actively engaged in political discourse and to represent Drake positively. They rose to the occasion.”

The student-organized events were well attended by students eager to talk about current events and become involved in the political process.

More than 150 students participated in Pancakes and Politics, a breakfast discussion also attended by Josh Romney, son of presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney. In addition, approximately 250 students attended a debate watch party held in two Meredith Hall classrooms.

ABC Republican Presidential Debate
Students stand-in for candidates and ABC News personalities.

Civically conscious students
More than two dozen Drake students assisted ABC News producers, technical staff and news personnel in preparing and executing the debate and its broadcast.

“Working side by side with the ABC News crew during the Republican presidential debate was an opportunity that I could not have experienced at another university,” says Christine Setsodi, a senior public relations and biology double major from Lincoln, Neb.

“I learned about event planning, logistics, production, broadcasting and the behind-the-scenes work of the media. Interacting with Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos and potentially the next president of the United States is an experience I will never forget.”

“I could not have asked for more from our students in positively representing Drake,” Paine Caufield says. “When thrust into the national spotlight — and even when they saw Diane Sawyer walking down the hall — our students still remained attentive, calm and respectful, despite their excitement. Everyone from ABC News has emphasized how their experiences with Drake students were delightful.”

Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos
Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos moderate the debate.

Drake’s straw poll

Leading up to the debate, Drake’s Student Senate conducted an online straw poll in which more than 1,200 students cast votes using a secure online balloting system.

“We were thrilled that so many students participated,” Pritchard says. “This poll represents the largest university campus straw poll conducted during the 2012 election cycle.”

The results of the poll indicated that students at the University are almost evenly split between those who lean Republican and those who define themselves as Democrats.

Debate brings national attention to Drake

An estimated 7.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the live GOP debate, making it the most-watched debate of the 2012 race. In addition to the debate, ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” broadcasted two entire shows live from Sheslow Auditorium, where more than 100 students were able to watch. Segments for “Good Morning America,” “Nightline” and “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” were also filmed on campus.

To read Assistant Professor of Journalism Jill VanWyke’s chronicle of student involvement in the preparation and execution of the broadcast, visit:

To read Assistant Professor of Politics Rachel Paine Caufield’s blog on Huffington Post, visit: