Are the debates going to matter?

posted at 5:01 pm on September 30, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

A continuing theme I’ve been hearing on the political gabfests on cable news this week is that not only are the current polling numbers sketchy at best, they don’t really matter all that much because… wait until the debates! That seems to be the expected pivot point in the home stretch of the race, and analysts from both sides are playing the expectations game and declaring how vital it will be for Romney to “make his mark” or for Obama to “avoid a game changing slip-up.” But assuming that one of them doesn’t come out at the podium and announce that they are either a serial killer or that they’ve discovered a cure for cancer, (with proof) will the debates really move the needle for either of them?

Miranda Green thinks not.

A 2008 Gallup study found that between 1960 and 2004, there were only two years where debates made a difference in actual votes. Instead, the most common outcome of the presidential debates is a slight popularity bump. But that bump doesn’t necessarily translate into votes.

“They sometimes have a short-term effect, a bounce in response to the debates, but at the end of the day there often is not much of an effect,” says Robert Erikson, author of The Timeline of Presidential Elections.

Data from the Gallup study also saw no direct correlation between the winner of each debate and the winner of the presidency. The 2004 Kerry vs. Bush debate was cited as an example. Kerry was considered the victor of all three showdowns, but still lost the election.

Not to read too much into Ms. Green’s personal preferences here, but it seems to me that those who feel their preferred candidate is ahead (rightly or wrongly) might be more inclined to think the debates won’t matter. But even with that said, it seems to me as if there is still a strong possibility that these shows may not produce much in the way of heat. If the candidates have been coached to play it too safe to avoid any potential damage, we may be treated to nothing more than stilted reruns of portions of their stump speeches in response to questions.

But if either of them – perhaps more likely for Romney – feel like they need a breakout moment, they might take a more aggressive tack. There are already rumors flying about Mitt preparing some “zingers” for the President, leading to much amusement on Twitter over the weekend. That can go two ways, of course. If the delivery is off or it’s perceived as more mean than funny, off the mark, etc. then it could turn into a campaign advertisement which won’t help matters at all. But if he delivers something that comes off along the lines of, “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you, Senator, are no Jack Kennedy” then I still think the debates could light a fire at just the right time.

Will anyone be watching? This chart shows how TV audiences generally declined by media share for a quarter of a century after hitting a high water mark for Reagan vs Carter. But that trend turned around in 2008 with significant increases in viewership for Obama vs McCain, and the Republican primary debates scored well above expected levels. I continue to maintain my belief that summer numbers reflect mostly the “preaching to the choir” crowds, and there will always be a significant number of people who don’t watch news channels 24/7 and are yet open to seeing something unexpected which changes or makes up their mind in the final weeks.


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Aside from the fact that he’s not pre-disposed to it, Obama knows that black politicians are not allowed to be visibly angry. Otherwise, you get labeled, as his wife was.

urban elitist on September 30, 2012 at 6:17 PM

It’s always strange to see the exact minute an argument tips off the rails.

rogerb on September 30, 2012 at 7:12 PM

Wall Street Insider says little Bammie will cheat, and cheated in 2008: Beware The First Presidential Debate – Obama Will Cheat

slickwillie2001 on September 30, 2012 at 7:08 PM

I like Ulsterman. Great conspiracy theories and quite believable with this a$$hole on orifice.

Lanceman on September 30, 2012 at 7:13 PM

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Nine of 17 top economists surveyed by CNNMoney picked Romney when asked who’s election would help the economy grow more. Only three picked Obama.

But the remaining five made no pick.

bayview on September 30, 2012 at 7:18 PM

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:05 PM

LOL experience tells me that adult beverages do not help, but am told you can see subtitles IF you set them up on the TV itself.
I might not bother, and wait for any comments here.

pambi on September 30, 2012 at 7:25 PM

I like Ulsterman. Great conspiracy theories and quite believable with this a$$hole on orifice.

Lanceman on September 30, 2012 at 7:13 PM

I believe it’s written as fiction, but notice how often it turns out true in reality. Ulsterman is kind of the Jules Verne of politics.

On this one, though, I think he underestimates the treachery. I expect it will be revealed someday that someone in MSM de facto leaked much of the questioning to Øbama in advance.

Think about it. The guy speaks from teleprompter virtually always for 3 1/2 years. He needs a teleprompter to speak to a class of elementary school children. And now he’s going to wing it on national TV?

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:26 PM

pambi on September 30, 2012 at 7:25 PM

I need to enable sub-titles on the TV? Why, of course. That explains it. Plus I’m watching from my iPad.

Rapido y Furioso!

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:30 PM

On this one, though, I think he underestimates the treachery. I expect it will be revealed someday that someone in MSM de facto leaked much of the questioning to Øbama in advance.

Think about it. The guy speaks from teleprompter virtually always for 3 1/2 years. He needs a teleprompter to speak to a class of elementary school children. And now he’s going to wing it on national TV?

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:26 PM

I don’t need it to be revealed. Count on that as fact.

Liberal men are by and large cuckolds to the black man and the broads swoon at every rap star that denigrates their sex with every ‘song’.

And by that I mean the whites.

Lanceman on September 30, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Univision has nice looking newsbabes. (Yes, I am sexist right wing pig.)

I may buy Rosetta Stone and watch more often.

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:36 PM

Univision has nice looking newsbabes. (Yes, I am sexist right wing pig.)

I may buy Rosetta Stone and watch more often.

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:36 PM

Worked with somebody years ago who made the statement that he had just discovered Univision and Telemundo. His comment, “who needs the Playboy channel with those stations on the air free?”

AZfederalist on September 30, 2012 at 7:41 PM

Well if Romney is loosing to a complete ass then why watch debates and why vote?
I am not watching Sunday shows of the debates.
I am so sick of being told the American people will vote for this son of a bitch I can’t stand it.

What is a vote worth if we don’t live in America anymore?

I am just about to the quitting point!

Delsa on September 30, 2012 at 7:41 PM

AZfederalist on September 30, 2012 at 7:41 PM

Well, I haven’t seen anything like Playboy yet. So I will stay tuned.

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:47 PM

Romney should congratulate Obama for being the eye candy at the debate.

Throw him off with his own juvenile b.s. at once, and keep him OFF BALANCE the whole way.

Mock him quietly with his own foolishness, fecklessness, foreign policy frack ups and jab jab jab.

Little annoying taps.

Bug him with unrelenting tweaks.

Obama loses his cool when you turn his superficial cool against him.

Turn it against him, Mitt-ster.

profitsbeard on September 30, 2012 at 7:49 PM

Well, I haven’t seen anything like Playboy yet. So I will stay tuned.

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:47 PM

Now, bear in mind this was about 15 years ago. I think he was referring to the Mexican Soap Operas. Nobody was disrobed, however, given the wardrobe, that would have been overkill.

AZfederalist on September 30, 2012 at 7:50 PM

AZfederalist on September 30, 2012 at 7:50

I’m noticing it’s not only the newsbabes who are good looking. The ad babes and all the TV pro babes are good looking too. None of this frumpy lib MSM washerwoman crap.

Mexico seems more advanced than I had once thought.

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:59 PM

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 7:59 PM

TV, after all, is meant for the eyes.

When I want intellect or serious discussion, I listen to radio.

petefrt on September 30, 2012 at 8:11 PM

rogerb on September 30, 2012 at 7:12 PM

…last night DBear was crying that he sold homeowners insurance and lost his clients and his job because of the housing bubble…and thanks to years of unemployment or something, was able to become a taxpayer again…how do I find the post the one night he was bidding everyone goodbye for a while…in the spring or early summer…(he got normal for a night)…he was moving to the Bay area…he had worked for years verifying something regarding tax returns for the IRS or other government entity…but software had made his job obsolete, and his department or job was eliminated…since he seems to have had a career change BEFORE his unemployment…I’m trying to help him keep his story straight.

KOOLAID2 on September 30, 2012 at 8:13 PM

You know….I think calling Obama, “eye candy” at the death is genius. He would try and make some snide retort, but he’d be so ticked. Itvwould throw him off game in a big way. I always enjoy when angry Barry shows up.

BettyRuth on September 30, 2012 at 8:29 PM

I want to know how America’s Lunch Lady feels about her spouse’s effeminate tendencies. What say you?

Key West Reader on September 30, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Reggie Love knows more about his sex life than moochelle.

VegasRick on September 30, 2012 at 6:34 PM
You could ask Nate Spencer and Larry Bland. Oh wait, they were mysteriously executed within a month of each other.

newportmike on September 30, 2012 at 8:30 PM

Uh-oh, I meant calling Obama “eye candy” at the debate! Darn iPad! (snicker)

BettyRuth on September 30, 2012 at 8:30 PM

Oct 3 is the O’s 20th anniversary. First Debate Question from faithful worshiper Jim Lehrer: “Happy Anniversary, Mr. President! How does it feel to be celebrating your 20th here tonight at such an historic moment — the first debate of your campaign to be re-elected president of the United States?”

winfield on September 30, 2012 at 8:56 PM

Oct 3 is the O’s 20th anniversary. First Debate Question from faithful worshiper Jim Lehrer: “Happy Anniversary, Mr. President! How does it feel to be celebrating your 20th here tonight at such an historic moment — the first debate of your campaign to be re-elected president of the United States?”

winfield on September 30, 2012 at 8:56 PM

I wanna see the marriage license!

Rational Thought on September 30, 2012 at 9:09 PM

Insofar as people who are “on the fence” are looking for an excuse to go to Romney, yes, the debates will matter. It’s not that people are really going to be persuaded by a debate performance; it’s that if Romney manages to come out of the debates looking presidential, that will be the excuse people use to sway their votes.

Caiwyn on September 30, 2012 at 9:44 PM

KOOLAID2 on September 30, 2012 at 8:13 PM

Something like this (ignore the smarminess of the LMGTFY site) and change your search terms.

rogerb on September 30, 2012 at 9:57 PM

It’s difficult to debate when both agree on everything and are identical in ideologies.

air_up_there on September 30, 2012 at 10:56 PM

You know….I think calling Obama, “eye candy” at the death is genius.

BettyRuth on September 30, 2012 at 8:29 PM

Uh-oh, I meant calling Obama “eye candy” at the debate! Darn iPad! (snicker)

BettyRuth on September 30, 2012 at 8:30 PM

I thought it was a Freudian slip that the debates will be the death of Cool Barry.

profitsbeard on September 30, 2012 at 11:13 PM

rogerb on September 30, 2012 at 9:57 PM

…Thank You!

KOOLAID2 on September 30, 2012 at 11:40 PM

First of all, just after the debates are over-everybody starts feverishly channel surfing to discover “who won?” in the eyes of the “gurus.” They are desperately searching for positive reinforcement and feedback. This is self defeating because if a gifted Republican orator such as Abraham Lincoln were debating a carrot, the MSM would unanimously declare the vegetable the winner.

Secondly, it is less important to win the debate than it is to avoid looking like a clod on national tv-such as stuttering and stammering, having an open fly or bumping into a dias- sending it crashing to the ground, tripping on steps , forgetting an important talking point, or having ill-applied makeup drip down your face under bright lights.

I have always believed that debates favor the challenger because, until both candidates appear together,the president has the bully pulpit and is larger than life. The challenger is not. By merely “holding his own” the challenger has actually taken a step up.

It is much more important. in my view, that Romney develop attack ads similar to those of Colonel West in Florida. The MSM is in Obama’s pocket so unless Romney and his campaign aids attack Obama’s record,said record (and what a horror story it is) will go unchallenged.

MaiDee on September 30, 2012 at 11:48 PM

I am so sick of being told the American people will vote for this son of a bitch I can’t stand it.

What is a vote worth if we don’t live in America anymore?

I am just about to the quitting point!
Brother, trust me your not alone. The media is in full court press behind obama, the pollsters too. The 2010 midterms and as silly as it sounds the chick fil thing gives me hope that obama will not be re elected. We actually had traffic jams over here. When McCain ran for president there was no enthusiasm for him to get elected. We all know we must vote for Romney for the sake of this country. I’ve been looking forward to these debates for a long time but I wish November 6 were here already.

newportmike on September 30, 2012 at 11:57 PM

The MSM is in Obama’s pocket so unless Romney and his campaign aids attack Obama’s record,said record (and what a horror story it is) will go unchallenged.

MaiDee on September 30, 2012 at 11:48 PM
.
Unchallenged or “Unauthenticated” ?

FlaMurph on October 1, 2012 at 12:16 AM

Aside from the fact that he’s not pre-disposed to it, Obama knows that black politicians are not allowed to be visibly angry. Otherwise, you get labeled, as his wife was.

urban elitist on September 30, 2012 at 6:17 PM

Heh. You never heard of Doug Wilder, then?

Adjoran on October 1, 2012 at 4:21 AM

The debates have had a serious impact in several races. In 1960, radio listeners felt Nixon won the debates, but TV viewers thought Kennedy had. There were more TV viewers, so it certainly may have made a difference in the close election.

In 1976 (the next debates), Ford stubbornly refused to acknowledge Soviet domination of the Eastern Europe bloc which played into his clueless image. Again, he barely lost.

1980 saw Reagan solidify a lead after the only debate where he disarmed the scare tactics used against him (sound familiar?), and again in ’84 he knocked the “senility” argument out of the park with “my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

1988 saw Dukakis with an early lead and a close race, but when he stammered at the (admittedly tasteless) question “What if your wife had been raped?” it became clear he really wasn’t ready for prime time.

Incidentally, that was the same year of the “I knew Jack Kennedy” line – which may have won the debate, but had no effect on the election.

Bush then hurt himself in the townhall debate in 1992 – Clinton was taking extra time on every question, Bush finally looked at his watch but was thought to be wanting the debate over. It sure didn’t help.

Gore’s stalking of Bush the Younger in 2000 displayed him as a strange, creepy guy, even though he tried to steal it back with a late scandal break and convincing CBS to call Florida for him while the Panhandle polls were still open.

So YES the debates have an effect fairly often. Just because it may not have been “THE” decisive factor doesn’t mean they had no effect.

Lastly, who the heck is Miranda Green anyway? What expertise does she bring to the table that I should give any particular weight to her opinions? Is she an expert is some field, or just another leftist whore for Obama?

Adjoran on October 1, 2012 at 4:32 AM

Romney: Ignore the questions as best you can (short token answers or disagreement with terms of question) and name the government agencies to be cut, max number of pages for the new IRS tax code, use of signing statements and Czars to unfund and undo the damage Obama has done; then offering to ban their further use except by 2/3 congressional approval so the next Socialist Usurper cannot ignore court orders or otherwise overtly disobey the law.

Obama: Go golfing, blame Bush, whatever.

trl on October 1, 2012 at 5:50 AM

I think someone will leak the questions to Obama ahead of time, like the new normal in public school, it is unfair that some kids know the answers and others do not.

Fleuries on October 1, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Romney needs to bring some specific proposals to the debate about what he would do if elected President, including tax cuts for EVERYBODY, what he would do to ObamaCare, what he would do about energy development, including coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy, including citing some numbers.

He also needs to quote some Before Obama/After Obama statistics, including unemployment, women’s unemployment, number of people in poverty or on food stamps, decline in median income, prices of food and fuel, and he needs to explain why ALL prices increase when fuel prices increase. Then he can ask the audience whether they want four more years of the same downward trends.

If he is criticized about Bain Capital, Romney should respond: “At Bain Capital, I only made money if the businesses we invested in made money and created jobs, and if they went bankrupt, I lost my own money. You, Mr. President, spent taxpayer’s money without their permission on businesses which went bankrupt and lost jobs, and you never paid back the taxpayers.”

Another good attack line: “You say you’ve spent every waking hour serving the American people, but in 3 1/2 years of your Presidency you spent 3 1/2 months playing golf. America needs a full-time President, and I will be your full time President, and you, Mr. Obama, can be a full-time golfer.”

Steve Z on October 1, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Data from the Gallup study also saw no direct correlation between the winner of each debate and the winner of the presidency. The 2004 Kerry vs. Bush debate was cited as an example. Kerry was considered the victor of all three showdowns, but still lost the election.

IMHO, Kerry won the first debate in 2004, when Bush seemed too tired from helping hurricane victims in Florida to concentrate on the debate. The second debate was a draw, but Kerry lost the third debate with his tasteless attack on Cheney’s lesbian daughter. In that year, Dick Cheney mopped the floor with John Edwards in the VP debate with his mastery of facts and figures and foreign policy, which probably helped Bush more than Bush’s own debate performance.

Steve Z on October 1, 2012 at 3:33 PM

In 2004, Dick Cheney mopped the floor with John Edwards in the VP debate with his mastery of facts and figures and foreign policy, which probably helped Bush more than Bush’s own debate performance.

Steve Z on October 1, 2012 at 3:33 PM

BTW, the Vice-Presidential debate this year could also sway quite a few voters. Most observers believed that Sarah Palin won the VP debate in 2008 against Gaffe-tastic Slow-Joe Biden, and Paul Ryan has a stronger command of facts (and his budget plans) than Palin did, and will probably make Biden look like an idiot.

Steve Z on October 1, 2012 at 3:40 PM

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