Two Quick Points on the Debates and Impact on Election Outcomes

I’ve seen a meme floating around today about how debates don’t change the fundamental trajectory of elections.  The invaluable Adrian Gray tweeted out two points that blows that false notion out of the water:

  • At the first debate 12 years ago, Bush was at 39% (down by 8%). Media quickly called it a win for Gore. Voters disagreed. #Election2012
  • In 2004, Bush had 11% lead going into debates. A week later, Bush led by 2%. Don’t tell me debates don’t matter. #Election2012

Do not buy the spin.  Remember the media already has Obama winning an election that is 40 days away.  The only thing else they could report on are things that would change a result they want.  Keep fighting.

Addendum: Some people are saying the Bush 2004 lead heading into the debate was only 6% but that doesn’t change the thrust of the argument


  1. Posted September 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The debates are important, but for the reason that they can hurt a candidate, and rarely help a candidate. The best example of that is Gore in 2000. Gore looked like a jerk in the first two debates, his debate behavior soaked into the electoral consciousness, and Bush gained on Gore due to the debates.

    • No Tribe
      Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Bush was terrible in his first ’04 debate too. he wasn’t ready to get challenged. I bet Romney will have some of that same advantage over Obama, who has rarely been asked a tough question in months.

  2. margaret
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I remember when Gore suddenly left his podium and came up behind Bush who gave him kind of a sideways smile/smirk. People thought Gore was going to deck Bush. I wonder why Gore did something so stupid like that? The election was scary close that, in hindsight, this move might have cost him the presidency.

  3. John Fisher
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ah yes Margaret – one of my favorite television moments… just what on earth was Algore thinking??

    • jeff
      Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

      It was Al Gore trying to be the alpha male. Remember?

      • margaret
        Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Now I remember! What a stupid and perhaps ultimately fatal move for his election.

  4. Chris
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I see way too many people improperly analyzing why the debates matter. The substance of the debate will matter very little. Both sides will get their zingers in, etc. Greymarch up above is on the right track, though.

    Romney does not need to score some knockout punch or kick Obama’s butt in order to gain ground or even pull ahead. As the race currently stands, let’s say (for argument’s sake) that Obama is at about 48% and Romney is around 46%, which means that there is about 6% of voters who are undecided. Those 6% are not favorably disposed toward the President–otherwise they would be backing him–but they have yet to see a reason to support Romney.

    Part of the reason for that is that they really haven’t had a chance to see him unfiltered. All they’ve seen are the negative attack ads and bad media coverage. Once they see Romney up on stage, looking Presidential and coming off friendly and smiling, the optic will contradict what they’ve been told about Romney all along.

    It’s a lot like the challenge Reagan faced in 1980. He just had to be seen as a safe, viable alternative to Carter and that’s what sent a lot of undecideds and ‘soft’ Carter voters his way. When Romney and Obama face off, both sides will see their guy as winning on substance. The media will spin one way or the other. But as long as Romney doesn’t screw up and looks the part of a guy who could be President, he’ll gain substantial ground. It’s a very low bar for him to clear.

    If Romney fights Obama to, at minimum, a draw on substance and comes across as assured, stable, Presidential and sunny, then I expect even the skewed polls the following week, when combined with the jobs report coming out on Friday, will show a deadlocked race. Then the meme will be about how Romney is making a ‘come back’.

    You can almost write the script ahead of time.

  5. margaret
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I haven’t watched many presidential debates over the years. I do remember two other times where the debates ended badly for a candidate. There was Gerald Ford’s “Soviet Union doesn’t dominate eastern europe” gaffe and there was Dukakis’ gaffe where he didn’t react when they asked what he would do if his wife was raped.

    Republican candidates especially should look out for trick questions and ambushes and know how to handle them. Any gaffe of theirs will get multiplied 100x in the media while a Dem will get the “aw he just mis-spoke” treatment.

    • jeff
      Posted September 28, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Actually it was Al Gores whining out. loud that did. him in. I think Romneys goal is ti show that hes a likeable and reasonable person while at the same tine explain how hes going to get us out of the mess were in

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