Debate Roundup

September 27, 2008

The initial pundit consensus was pretty much in line with my assessment: a narrow victory for McCain, nowhere near the blowout he needed. The public, on the other hand, scored it a clear Obama win, though it’s more important what they think a few days from now. Speaking of which, it strikes me as odd that people even bother with focus groups of undecideds, sequestered from any media reaction. How the public would be affected by a debate if there weren’t any pundits telling them what to think strikes me as pretty irrelevant. What matters is how people are actually affected. As it stands, though, the verdict of these instant polls and focus groups will probably affect the media’s take on the debate, which will then dictate how the public in general feels about it.

The award for worst debate reactions goes to Amy Holmes, who demonstrated that she doesn’t know what ‘infer’ means, and then used the words “McCain won, hands down”, which – even if it were true – sounds a little disingenuous since it was run in a McCain ad hours before the debate.

This bit of bad analysis from David Limbaugh is also worth mentioning:

I disagree with some who say McCain needed to score a knockout to win. I think he won decisively enough. I mean if McCain is handicapped to win then we’re saying the public considers him more presidential at least on foreign policy. That’s the MSM template, not necessarily the people’s. There is no incumbent. I think McCain clearly won and didn’t have to win any more than he did to be perceived a winner. In fact, I think we can just as easily turn this expectations/handicap game around and say that Obama, as the Messiah, is expected to win any contest against anyone anywhere anyhow, hands down, far and away and with no contest.

This misses the point entirely. The expectations game is all well and good (actually, it’s incredibly irritating, and I wish the Obama camp would stop playing it so heavy-handedly) but it’s an insignificant component of why McCain needed to win big. He needed a big win because he is very far behind in this race, and there are ever fewer opportunities to change that fact. If he makes things a little better for himself at each remaining opportunity, he will lose the election. So any time he has a chance to score a big victory but doesn’t, his chances of becoming president decrease.

Finally, a new blogger brings up my argument against using the terms ‘win’ and ‘lose’ in the context of wars, and applies it to debates. This is interesting stuff, and I’m unqualified to comment on the points about formal debating contests. I’d say that in the context of presidential debates, though, that people generall think of the winner as the candidate whose performance was most likely to net voters. It’s in this sense that we could say McCain won (as it turns out, he probably didn’t, but never mind) but still had a bad night, if he netted supporters, but not as many as he needed to put him back in the overall race.

One Response to “Debate Roundup”

  1. undeservedconfidence Says:

    Thanks for the link–always helpful for getting traffic to a new blog. I quite agree that the more pertinent question is who will win more votes, which is much more closely tied to the question of who seemed more presidential than the question of who did the better debating per se. I’ve updated my original post to reflect this.

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