Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Presidential Debates: Strategy & Importance

Historically, the presidential debates have been the end of the road vehicle by which candidates nail down their positions on issues before voting begins—especially for independent voters—and attempt to solidify their claims of being the most reliable candidate to steer the nation. 

How effective are the debates though?  According to Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post, unless a definitive, overwhelming victory is secured by either candidate, the debates won’t mean much. Cillizza continued, saying, “Most people who tune in will have made their minds up about who won (and who they are going to vote for) before a word is uttered by either candidate — and, in the post-debate analysis, they’ll tune in to whatever commentary best fits that view. For the tiny sliver of undecided voters, it’s hard to imagine they will find a reason to choose either candidate.”

However, today’s town hall style presidential debate at Hofstra University, catered to the American people, will perhaps have more sway on the undecided.  A group of undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization will have their chance to clarify pre-election qualms by asking candidates questions on foreign and domestic issues. The two candidates will then each have two minutes to respond.

This debate, commented a recent Politico article, will take place in an environment “more suitable for share-your-pain moments than aggressive attacks” where candidates will need to come off more personably, connecting with the audience and answering questions more directly. Additionally, “because candidates are free to walk about, town halls are body-language danger zones.”

Al Gore in a past debate, for example, was criticized for rolling his eyes while Bush was speaking, which translated poorly with voters.  As it is critical to convey a respectable impression, antics like Biden’s jovial laughter and frequent interruptions during last Thursday’s VP debate—behavior that was criticized as condescending and disrespectful—would not be well-received.

Obama, feeling the pressure to perform after reviews of the first presidential debate painted him as ‘lackluster’ and  ‘uninspired,’ headed for debate training camp this weekend in Williamsburg, VA. He promised his supporters a more aggressive performance in Tuesday's rematch with Romney, and will have to compensate for his slipping lead in the polls. 

Poll results by Gallup following the first debate show Romney catching up to Obama by a few points, suggesting that Romney has improved his public image, something he has struggled to polish throughout the campaign.  According to a Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll, 51% of likely voters now view Romney favorably, compared with 44% who view him unfavorably. Before the debate, the poll results showed 47% having a favorable view and 49% unfavorable.

Comparing presidential debates through history, an article by the San Francisco Chronicle says that Romney’s win in the first debate falls in line with history. “It’s much, much easier to be the challenger. In all the debate cycles since 1960 — 10 of them — the candidate of the party NOT in power came out of the debates having scored points eight times: Kennedy over Nixon, Carter over Ford, Reagan over Carter…”

Even so, this debate will be an opportunity and a risk for Romney to convince voters that he is in-step with the middle-class and the poor. While the economy and unemployment will likely continue to be a central issue in Tuesday’s debate, others have suggested that last week’s vice-presidential showdown will likely inspire a rehashing of issues such as Libya, abortion rights, and Romney’s now-infamous “47 percent” quote.

For Athenians interested in local debate action, consider joining the Russell Library for a debate watch event tonight, October 16th, starting at 8PM. Free coffee and snacks, and commentary from Professor Jamie Carson of UGA's Political Science Department. Plus, live tweeting! #RBRLelection

The Full Debate Schedule: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/10/am-alert-with-california-bill-deadline-come-and-gone-its-on-to-election.html

Post by Lori Keong, student worker/blogger, Russell Library

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