Oct 6, 2008

A tale of two debates

This sounds familiar:
[The Democrat] won the vice-presidential debate 41% to 28% among uncommitted voters according to a CBS poll. An online poll conducted by MSNBC makes the margin of [Democrat's] victory even larger: 67% to 33%. While the MSNBC poll was not a scientific poll, it did have 885,000 responses, so it was a very large poll of Internet users.

The effect of the first presidential debate is starting to kick in. [The Democrat] is surging and [the Republican] is dropping. [The Democrat] has retaken the lead in all-important Ohio by 49% to 48%
That was 4 years ago, so be careful with post-debate optimism. On the other hand, the electoral map looked quite bleak then. Kerry was 53 electoral votes behind, while Obama is 135 EV ahead today, according to the same source. There probably aren't any useful lessons about predictions in this historical snapshot.

What I find more interesting - actually, stunning - is that the poll results about the VP debate winner were so similar in 2004 and 2008. That's completely crazy. I couldn't be more biased than I was for Edwards and against Cheney, but come on, that debate was a tie. Edwards failed in every possible way to show how bad the Bush-Cheney administration was and to distinguish the alternative that he and Kerry offered. He failed to challenge Cheney and call his BS. So both of them came out looking like reasonable people with legitimate policy differences that were a matter of personal preference. An intelligent space alien who saw them for the first time would get a similar impression as in the 1996 Gore-Kemp debate. The problem is, the difference between Jack Kemp and Dick Cheney is... about nine circles of Hell. I think I am charitable to Edwards when I say the 2004 debate was a tie; it was actually the main reason I did not support his candidacy this time.

By contrast, this year we didn't really see a VP debate. We saw a feisty puppy nipping at a gigantic St. Bernard's ankle, half the time not even distracting him, and half the time being shaken away with one twitch. It may have been a pit bull puppy, and she was cute and eager to show off the tricks she learned, but she mainly got praised for not peeing on the floor. The St. Bernard was a bit old, and some say boring, but reassuringly confident and reliable. There is no doubt as to who won; the only question is, can we even call it a contest?

How, then, can we explain the similar viewer verdicts? The only explanation I can think of has to do with the contrast of the deep antipathy for Cheney vs. low expectations and a perverse, respect-less liking for Palin.

And that despite the fact that Palin's most substantive statement in the entire debate was that she agreed with Cheney's views on Vice President's Constitutional powers.

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