Debate analysis: Candidates’ perfomances disappointing

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“Heated” would be the opposite of what Wednesday’s debate was like.

   Six then-candidates for Dixie State University’s Student Association executive council spent an hour reciting their platforms, politely agreeing with each other on the raised issues, and continuously making rookie-debater mistakes in both verbal and nonverbal communication.

   According to debate.org, nonverbal communication is just as is important, if not more important, than verbal communication. Therefore, I’ve chosen to examine candidates’ mistakes in both.

Verbal communication

   It did not seem as though the candidates prepared or rehearsed their opening and closing statements. For example, C.J. Dever, a senior business administration major from Provo and who was running for student body president, said his presidential campaign started as a joke with his wife. Zachary Reed, a sophomore accounting major from Peoria, Arizona, and who was running for vice president of clubs and organizations, went off-topic in his closing statement by advertising Dixie Idol instead of telling the students why he is their best candidate.

   Throughout the debate, the candidates missed out on numerous opportunities to attack their opponents’ weaknesses by refusing their chance for rebuttals. For example, Sarah Ramaker, a senior dance major from Midland, Michigan, and who ran for student body president, passed up an opportunity to attack Dever on his lack of experience in DSUSA.

   Moreover, some did not hesitate to bring up their own weaknesses. For instance, Casey Banner, a junior secondary education major from Las Vegas who ran for vice president of academics, admitted to being nervous right of the bat. Dever, on the other hand, devalued several of his statements when he said, “I know this may sound general.”

   Additionally, all six of the candidates were too nice to each other and kept agreeing on the raised issues. “I would concur with my opponent,” “I think that’s a good idea,” and “something I like about what she said” are just a few phrases Banner used to address his opponent, Kendra Jensen, a junior English major from Richmond, in his rebuttals.

   Lastly, the candidates’ verbal communication lacked assertiveness and content. All were guilty of stuttering, mispronouncing words, and delivering incomplete sentences or thoughts. Ramaker’s verbal communication in the beginning of the debate seemed to convey nervousness, as evident by the abrupt changes in her tone of voice and the audible deep breaths she took in between her statements. Jensen would often quiet down at the end of her statements, which may have indicated lack of certainty. Banner’s self-doubt may have become evident in his choice of words as he would avoid using powerful verbs such as “will,” often replacing them with “hope to.”

   All candidates failed to outline specific steps they would take when they assume office. Some, like Dever, accused questions of being tricky and overused phrases “in all honesty” and “honestly.” Others, like Sara Wulfenstein, a sophomore business administration major from Pahrump, Nevada, and who ran for vice president of clubs and organizations, restated the questions and frequently went off-topic.



   Overall, the candidates delivered a poor performance. They did not seem to have any control over their facial expressions, hands, feet or posture.

   Dever, for instance, seemed frustrated and impatient throughout the debate. He was constantly looking down in between his statements, perhaps contemplating his previous responses. Ramaker was nodding in response to her opponent’s statements, which may be perceived as submissiveness. Wulfenstein was constantly looking at front-seat audience members, especially when she struggled to pronounce the word “reiterating.” Reed failed to maintain steady eye contact with the crowd, often gazing into the distance or letting his eyes run around loose.

   All six of the candidates seemed to express feelings of doubt and discomfort on their faces when they were sitting down in between their turns.

   Hand gestures appeared to be a huge issue. Banner, Jensen and Ramaker were continuously rubbing their hands, perhaps trying to give themselves reassurance and crossing their fingers to assume a more defensive stance. Reed’s hands started trembling noticeably halfway through the debate, which is probably why he held them behind his back for the last half of it.

   The candidates’ feet did not seem to convey confidence either. All of them, particularly Ramaker and Jensen, would always take a step back from the podium at the end of their statements and hold one foot behind another, looking like they weren’t completely into the debate. Reed continuously rocked back-and-forth by switching his body weight from one leg to another, which may be an indication of uncertainty and discomfort.

   Posture often seemed incongruent with what the candidates were saying. As a result, some of their statements did not come out as authentic. Banner’s promises and closing statement, for example, were hard to believe given how nervous he sounded and how defensive he seemed.


   Unfortunately I doubt, the poor debate performance held much weight during the final elections. In my time at DSU, I’ve witnessed four debates, and none of them had any serious impact on the election process.

    It seems voters just don’t care and would much rather vote for whoever catches them first in front of the entrance to the Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons.

   Whether you like this status quo or not, such has been the way of DSU’s politics for at least the past four years. Voter apathy and indifference gives some DSUSA executive council candidates no incentive to try hard, as they can simply cruise by on their popularity alone.

   Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully supportive of our winners. It’s just that I wouldn’t be confident in their ability to represent DSU in a debate competition if the opportunity ever arose.

   You can watch the full debate on Dixie Sun News’ YouTube channel.

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   Do you agree with the analysis of the debate? Drop us a couple words in the comment section below.