Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama at times made the audience laugh and smile at the University of Arkansas watch party.
Assistant professor Patrick Stewart, who recently published “Debatable Humor,” said candidates' sense of humor is important to voters.
"How candidates use humor during the debate, what they used it for, and how the audience responded. That's what I focused on," Stewart said.
In fact, students kept a close eye on the humor of Obama and Romney at Wednesday night's presidential debate. Both were trying to win laughs and votes for the top political seat.
Dozens of students gathered in Giffels Auditorium on the University of Arkansas campus to listen to Stewart and watch the debate.
"Humor brings people together. Laughter is a shared activity, and a politician who wants to make the public laugh, that's someone that we want to represent us," Stewart said.
The audience had mixed feelings about presidential candidates using humor during the debate.
"I don't necessarily look for humor at all, especially during the debates, just because a lot of these matters I take super seriously," said Ellen Rudolph, economics and political science student.
Nick Irmen, a law student, said, "I think it makes people more relatable to the voters and that's the biggest thing right now for a candidate, is to make sure and try and be relatable with the average American person."
Stewart said humor is a hallmark of the American democratic society, but it's not a competition about being comical.
"It's about being likeable, it's about showing your personality, it's about showing your intelligence," Stewart said.
Wednesday's topic, domestic policy, is the first of three general election debates. The next debate will be Oct. 11, when candidates will focus on foreign and domestic affairs.