For voters still mulling, one thing is clear: That debate didn’t help

“Useless.” “Ridiculous.” “Horrible.”

Undecided voters approached the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden with some hope of hearing policies and plans that could help them make a decision they had been mulling for months.

Instead, they listened with a mix of disgust and dismay, appalled by the name-calling and lack of decorum of a debate that seemed to shatter any remaining belief that political norms might prevail in a national moment that is anything but normal.

“They seemed like little kids arguing. Or maybe old guys arguing in a diner somewhere. Maybe that’s where they belong — in some diner arguing, not on the national stage,” said Ellen Christenson, 69, of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. “I am just so disappointed in the evening. I don’t have any more information than when I started watching.”

Christenson said she leaned Democratic, but was undecided this election. Before the debate, she was considering voting for Trump.

“It was really kind of useless to the American people. I am just sort of disgusted,” she said. “I don’t feel like voting for either of them really, but especially the president.”

For voters battered by a public health crisis that has upended their lives for months and struggling through an economic recession, the debate seemed disconnected from their daily struggles. With hundreds of thousands of people applying for jobless benefits every week and more than 206,000 killed by the coronavirus, the debate became just one more stressor in a country already feeling on edge.

A majority of Americans say they believe the nation’s politics are deeply dysfunctional, framing the election in starkly existential terms. Most say they think the contest will decide whether the United States will remain a prosperous democracy, a view that cuts across age, gender, race, region and ideology.

Tuesday night’s debate only exacerbated those fears. In the highest-profile moment of the highly charged campaign, the candidates presented insults and interruptions rather than plans to help a fearful and anxious country emerge from a period of national crisis.

Neither man detailed proposals for managing a pandemic still roiling the economy, education and daily life. Trump left voters with little indication of what he might do if reelected beyond fiercely attack his opponents. And Biden, who often struggled to complete a sentence because of interruptions from his rival, didn’t dive into the specifics of his plans beyond promising a greater respect for scientists and public health experts.

“I didn’t hear anything that would impact people like me,” said Merrill Tufts, 51, of Winterville, North Carolina, who is leaning toward backing Biden. “I see people who have had their small businesses that have had to close. We’re just making it day by day.”

Tufts, a retired Marine who describes himself as a Democrat with some conservative views and what he called Christian values, said Trump’s performance compelled him to condemn the president’s behavior to his teenage sons as the family watched the debate.