Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Debate anxiety -- VP edition


If you are like me, you are worried about the Biden-Palin set-to Thursday night. Things have seemed to be going almost too well for the Obama campaign recently. Pollsters say, if the election were held today, Obama would win, very big.

But now we have to get through the Biden-Palin debate. And though the Alaska governor probably has been dragging down that sinking ship, the McCain Squirrelly Express, with her inarticulate responses to Katie Couric's interview questions, she has also provided the only life raft Republicans have found in this season.

Moreover, people who have debated her say she is good in a debate format. Here's how Alaska Republican Andrew Halcro experienced going up against Palin in gubernatorial debates:

During the campaign, Palin's knowledge on public policy issues never matured -- because it didn't have to. Her ability to fill the debate halls with her presence and her gift of the glittering generality made it possible for her to rely on populism instead of policy.

We're in a decidedly populist mood these days, confronted with the prospect of funneling billions of dollars to bankers and financiers who we believe already ripped us off. Collectively, we may give Sarah Palin some benefit of the doubt -- though both parties have allowed themselves to be trapped into supporting the unpopular bailout.

Palin will probably "exceed expectations" because expectations could hardly be lower. Pundits may conclude she "won" the debate.

But none of that matters. Here's why:
  • the enormous audience this event will draw is primarily a form of voyeurism. Palin is more theater than a serious contender. The very lack of seriousness McCain demonstrated by selecting her has been undermining his credentials.
  • Obama "won" last week's presidential debate in the way that mattered most: he came across as a plausible President. Since we've never had a black man with an African name in the job, that's a huge hurdle. But polling and punditry agree that he cleared it. McCain either did nothing for himself or perhaps demonstrated a churlish side. But in essence, Obama won.
  • Debates mostly speak to the undecided. Even more than before last week's Obama-McCain debate, most of us now know who we are going to vote for. Barring an absurdly poor performance, those of us who have decided will almost always feel our candidate won. Meanwhile, the persuadable undecided have dwindled to something like 5 percent of potential voters. There just are not very many viewers there for Palin to win over -- probably less in total than Obama's current 5 percent margin in the polls.
  • Besides, vice-presidential debates don't swing elections. Pollster Charles Franklin was asked bluntly in an online chat today:

    Marion, Ind.: Is there any history of the vice presidential debates moving the polls?
    Charles Franklin: No. Though post-debate polls have sometimes found clear winners and losers in the VP debates, there isn't much evidence that the national polls at least move much.

So, though it is hard, we need to relax and enjoy the show. Go on over to Jane R.'s place and tell her what you'll be drinking.

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