Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Debate: what effect?

The consensus thus far seems to be that Kerry "won" the debate, because presentation trumps substance on television, but that the internals haven't moved much. Those who said Bush was a stronger leader and better on the War on Terror before, still do in the same proportions.

My own thought is that Kerry's numerous errors will come back to haunt him in GOP commercials, whereas all he can put up against Bush are the split-screen scowls and a few pauses before answering.

Gerry Dale, whose Electoral College Breakdown has been around a few elections now, has a different take, based on the actual history of the races before and after debates:

Debating The Impact

The fable of the first Presidential debate is well known. Richard Nixon was known as highly intelligent, determined, and both experienced and skilled in the art of debate. His opponent, the young and dynamic John F. Kennedy, understood the medium better. Nixon showed up weary, and foolishly did not use makeup. Kennedy was tanned and rested, and had his presentation professionally attended. The cameras made Kennedy look even better, while the sweating and pale Nixon came across sickly and nervous.

According to the fable, those who heard the debate on radio declared that Nixon had gotten the upper hand. Those who watched on television, however, came away with a completely different impression. And as Erika Tyner Allen writes, "At election time, more than half of all voters reported that the Great Debates had influenced their opinion; 6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone." Given this, it would be easy for one to conclude that the first set of Presidential debates greatly impacted the 1960 election.

But while people probably, for the most part, do answer poll questions truthfully to the best of their perceptions, people also do sometimes remember things wrong, or otherwise end up answering in misleading manners. The entire race for President in 1960 had been fought tooth and nail. First one candidate, and then the other, opened up a 4-5 point lead with their convention. Heading into the debates, the race as measured by Gallup was a tie. Three straight polls, taken from early August through the middle of September showed the race either exactly even or within a single point. The actual results on election day were just as close; Kennedy took home 0.17% more of the popular vote. If 6% decided their vote on the debates alone, they must have done so half for each candidate; and if more than half of all voters had ther decision greatly influenced by the debates, they must also have come down on both sides in nearly even proportions.

It gets even better. According to Dale, the debates were only decisive in 1980, and pretty much irrelevant every other election. Read the whole article


Post a Comment

<< Home