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The Presidential Debate

Sunday, September 28, 2008
Analyzing a presidential debate is a strange activity. It's not to be judged as a debate, but as a performance - it's on personality, not points. Expectations (largely set by the media) can matter more than reality. You're looking not at how you view the debate (since your mind is usually made up) but how other people (undecideds) will perceive it. Lastly, the perceived winner immediately after the debate can become the perceived loser a week later, depending on media spin and what's most memorable about the event.

Speaking strictly as a debate, I thought Friday was a tie, and perhaps even inclined towards McCain. By this I don't mean that McCain had the stronger substantive arguments, but that he effectively dominated the discussion. However, he apparently came off as a condescending old jerk, whereas Obama seemed reasonable and calm.

The expectations by the public were that Obama would win, but the press remembered McCain's effective performances - so generally speaking there was no advantage in expectations. But since this was a foreign policy debate, McCain had nothing to gain. McCain has had a 20-point advantage on foreign policy, so all Obama had to do was not embarrass himself to make up ground. So according to expectations, a tie for Obama was a win.

While I was frustrated by Obama's failure to exploit several debating opportunities and lack of aggressiveness, apparently independent voters (particularly older female voters) liked his noncombative style very much. Which just goes to show that when it comes to watching presidential debates, I am not a middle aged female swing voter.

Finally, the immediate polling indicated a clear Obama victory in the debate - but then Gore in 2000 won the first debate too, only to see people focusing on his sighs a few days later, turning it into a loss. From what I can tell of the debate this time, the press is generally following the public's initial impression - that it was a tie on substance but an Obama victory on style, and that McCain came off as an angry old man. If this remains the case during the talking-head-a-thon this morning, we can expect that Obama will have won the first round of debates. Whatever that means.

What a weird business.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:46 AM
  • I thought they were boring. Personally, I'm looking forward to the VICE-presidential debates. If Palin's performance with Katie Couric is any indication, that is going to be good television. Mwahahaha.

    By Blogger Silk Stocking, at 11:19 AM  
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