Days after explosive revelations about Donald Trump’s predatory comments about women and Hillary Clinton’s closed-door speeches to banking executives, some people who watched the US presidential debate on Sunday night were so disgusted they said they wouldn’t vote or were weighing a third-party candidate or write-in option.
“I feel that it is wrong that these are the two choices I have,” said Patrick Trombetta, a Bernie Sanders supporter trying to decide between Clinton, Green Party candidate Jill Stein or writing Sanders in on the ballot.
Here are stories of voters watching the debate around the country:
Mormon Republican in Las Vegas
John Burns, 42, is a registered Republican and self-described conservative who’s upset with his choices for president because he said both seem like Democrats. He took in the debate from a restaurant in Las Vegas at a watch party organised by the Clark County Republican Party, where attendees munched on fries and pigs-in-a-blanket and howled with laughter as Trump went on the offensive against Hillary Clinton.
Raised Mormon, Burns works with VIP customers at a Las Vegas casino and uses a wheelchair after being paralysed in a motorcycle accident at age 21. He said his disability can make it hard for him to land a job, and the thought of people taking welfare benefits or abusing the system bothers him.
Burns said the video of Trump’s lewd talk didn’t move the dial much for him; he agrees that the conversation was off-the-record “locker-room banter” and thinks women can be just as bad in private.
“I think it shows a human side. I think it’s the politicians who are trying to make a political point,” he said.
Burns pumped his fist as Donald Trump described a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. His deductible went from $500 to $3,000 and his boss told him it was a direct result of the law; it’s so expensive that it doesn’t even feel to him like he has insurance.
The verdict: “I’m almost ready to just sit this vote out because I’m so fed up with both sides,” Burns said. “I want a clear constitutionalist to win this election, but that’s not going to happen. I don’t believe Trump’s conservatism. I think it’s what he’s saying to get himself elected.”
Cringing in Arizona
Sarah Parsons Fein, 38, of Tempe, Arizona, had one word for Sunday night’s debate: “cringe-worthy”.
“The whole thing is just terrible for me; it’s like a car accident you can’t look away but you want to,” said the 38-year-old stay-at-home mom.
When asked about Trump’s response to the controversy over his vulgar comments about women caught on tape, Fein wasn’t swayed by him brushing them off as “locker room comments.”
“I think that just perpetuates rape culture,” she said.
The verdict: Fein plans to vote for Clinton after supporting Sanders in the Democratic primary.
Backing a different woman in Pennsylvania
Cheyanne Dawson, 22, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, watched the debate with co-workers at a restaurant and said it didn’t change her disdain for both candidates.
“They’re not good representations of what we want them to be,” Dawson said. Clinton “just says what people want to hear, and so does Donald Trump, but you want someone to be genuine, authentic, and I don’t think either of the candidates are like that.”
She is especially disappointed with Clinton because she has high expectations for the first female president — “someone you can look up to” — and thinks Clinton lies and lacks passion.
But Dawson dismissed Trump immediately as a “social media” phenomenon with bizarre policies that “wouldn’t benefit us.”
The verdict: She plans to vote for Stein.
Reluctant voter in Michigan
Andy Fox, 24, a server at Lansing Brewing Co., said he supported Sanders “to try something new” and is reluctant to vote for Clinton or Trump because “they’re both criminals.”
Fox watched parts of the debate during his shift in Lansing. He said it did not assuage his fear that regardless of who is elected, “something really terrible is going to happen” in the next four years.
With Clinton, he said, there will be “more wars” and with Trump, a “racial divide.”
Fox credited Clinton for talking about health care, but otherwise “it’s just like high school banter” between the candidates — much too personal criticism and not nearly enough policy discussion, he said.
The verdict: Fox said he probably will not vote.
Listless Libertarian in Colorado
Elliot Fladen, 36, a lawyer in suburban Denver, doesn’t know if he can bring himself to choose Clinton but he says he can’t vote for fellow Libertarian Gary Johnson because he’s scared Trump may win.
“I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life,” Fladen said before the debate. “But can I sit by and let this delusional con-man Donald Trump become president? I don’t think I can.”
Fladen, whose wife was born in Mexico, started reviling Trump’s approach to international affairs after he insulted Mexican immigrants.
Fladen frequently shook his head during the debate, laughing when Trump said he respects women. But he didn’t warm to Clinton, either.
“Every time Hillary Clinton opens her mouth, half of me wants to gag and say, ‘I could never vote for this person,’“ Fladen said. “But then Trump opens his mouth, and it’s like, ‘Well, I guess she is the lesser of two evils.’“
The verdict: Fladen prefers Johnson but is leaning toward Clinton to stop Trump.
Bernie backer in North Carolina
Patrick Trombetta, 53, Cary, is an independent who would never vote for Trump but also has trouble with Clinton.
“I just disagree with her on a lot of issues,” he said. “She says a lot of the right things — I just don’t know that I believe her.”
Sitting in his living room, the former medical device sales manager and twin brother, Steve, were visibly disgusted by Trump’s comments on several topics, including allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton.
As for Hillary Clinton, Trombetta said he was impressed with some of her answers and how she apologized for putting classified State Department emails on her private server. But he also felt she was hypocritical and disingenuous in other responses.
The verdict: Still undecided.
Student worried about Islamaphobia in Seattle
Irkan Abdullahi, 26, a university student, watched the debate at a civic center in Seattle where most of the crowd of around 100 people appeared to support Clinton, often cheering after her lines and laughing at Trump’s claims. She said Trump doesn’t respect women.
“It’s ridiculous. I mean he’s just saying things that he shouldn’t,” she said.
Abdullahi, who is Muslim, said she liked that Clinton talked about her religion.
“The things that she said really made feel good about this country and being here. When it came to Donald Trump, the things he said were very hurtful,” she said.
The verdict: Abdullahi will vote for Clinton.
Clinton voter in Vegas
Las Vegas resident Jasmine Santana, 29, watched the debate at home with her 7-year-old son. She’s already decided she’s going to vote for Hillary Clinton, but wanted to see how Trump responded to the release of a vulgar audio recording from 2005.
She said the recording was hard for her to listen to, and it hit home that her son would be hearing about it and she’d have to explain it to him.
She said she thought Trump embarrassed himself in Sunday’s debate.
“He wanted the heat off of him. He tried to redirect everything,” said Santana, who’s a medical assistant. “I think he looked like a bully.”
She said she was blown away by her son’s take on the debate, and took to Facebook to share his reaction.
“He said, ‘I think Donald Trump is rude and a liar. He says he cares Americans but he only cares himself,’“ Santana said.
The verdict: She will vote for Clinton.
Third-party supporter leaning Trump in Florida
William Martin, 21, from Tallahassee, was a Johnson supporter and was not happy about the libertarian’s exclusion.
Martin watched with a group of mostly Republican supporters at a restaurant, where some chuckled when Trump said he had “great respect for women.”
The crowd responded favorably when Trump said he would put Clinton “in jail” over classified State Department emails on her private server.
“I did feel like Clinton was more professional than Trump was, but some comments he made held merit. I think both had very balanced stances,” Martin said.
Martin liked Trump’s point about going after the Islamic State group and was interested in hearing how both candidates would handle health care and any alterations to the Affordable Care Act.
The verdict: Martin is leaning toward Trump, though many of his views favor Johnson.
Early voter in Arizona
Ashley Smith, 27, Phoenix, watched the debate with a friend from the balcony of downtown Phoenix’s DeSoto Central Market.
Smith said she thought it was very apparent that Clinton bested Trump.
“I just think he doesn’t know anything about anything,” she said. “He’s very painful to watch.”
She said she wasn’t surprised by Trump’s predatory comments.
“I think he’s a foul human being,” she said.
The verdict: The Arizona native said she already has her early ballot, and her mind was made up before the debate. She’ll be casting her vote for Clinton.