By Marie Haaland for the Hofstra Chronicle
The first presidential debate of 2016, and the most-watched debate of all time – hosted at Hofstra on Monday, Sept. 26 – set several records, amplifying the plethora of positive impacts the university has already seen as a result of hosting back-to-back presidential debates in 2008 and 2012.
Hofstra is the first university to host three consecutive presidential debates, giving the school a great deal of national and international attention.
According to Nielson, a marketing company that tracks TV ratings, 84 million people watched the debate on the 13 channels that aired it live. This number doesn’t include those who watched C-Span, gathered in viewing parties or live streamed it on the web. The debate drew several million additional viewers on social media live streams, making the actual number of total viewers much higher.
The two previous debates held at Hofstra both rank in the top 10 most watched. The debate in 2012 between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, held on Oct. 16, ranks No. 3, with 45.6 million households watching. The one held on Oct. 15, 2008 between then Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain, ranks No. 9, drawing in 40 million households.
Hosting these two previous debates boosted Hofstra’s national recognition. According to Google Trends, the search term “Hofstra” saw its peak in October 2008. On Oct. 16, the day of the 2008 debate, Hofstra was the 12th most frequent Google search, according to an article by thirteen.org. Searches increased over the next day, resulting in Oct. 17 being the day the term “Hofstra” was Googled most frequently since Google Trends started keeping record.
For the week surrounding the 2016 debate, the number of Google searches for “Hofstra” increased from its average. The time that it was most searched was at 8:00 p.m. on the day of the debate.
This peak did not reach the same level as in 2008, but the term was searched about the same on debate day in 2012 and 2016. One explanation for this could be that people are learning about Hofstra and therefore no longer have the need to search for the school.
“I think it’s incredibly good for Hofstra to have the debate. I think this is a really interesting election cycle,” said Ellen Frisina, a public relations professor. “Hofstra is rightfully very proud that we’re the only university that’s ever had [a presidential debate] three times … I think that Hofstra’s image will increase.”
The national spotlight was placed on Hofstra during all three of these debates, allowing the university an opportunity for free advertising. According to an article by the New York Times, “the university calculated that the exposure from the 2008 debate was worth $30 million in advertising.”
The free advertising paid off. The number of applications to the university rose by 2,088 from 2007 to 2009. The average SAT scores of admitted freshmen have also risen since 2008. In 2006, the average was 1165 and grew to 1210 for the class entering in 2015, a difference of 45 points.
“That’s a good return on investment,” President Stuart Rabinowitz said in the New York Times article.
After Hofstra held its second debate in October 2012, the six-year graduation rate – a measure of students who earn their Bachelor’s degree in that time – rose 4 percent between the 2011 and 2013 school years. For 2011, it was 58 percent, and it increased to 62 percent in 2013.
“I think that … the first two [debates] created an image for Hofstra and this one solidifies it,” said Kelly Martin, a sophomore journalism and global studies major. “And I think in terms of a national scale, it shows Hofstra really does have good programs for political science and for journalism. It’s cool to show that we’re super involved with national politics.”
This year’s debate was not only the most watched, but it also garnered the most social media activity. According to Twitter, this debate passed the previous record of 10.3 million tweets during the 2012 presidential debate, with trending hashtags including #debatenight and #debate.
The most retweeted political tweet from Monday night was a tweet by Donald Trump from 4 years ago, which read, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
The popularity was due to Clinton mentioning this comment during the debate, to which Trump responded by saying he never said it.
If the trends seen from past debates hold, this debate will help Hofstra to further advance its standing and bring more students to the university in the coming years.