Monday, October 22, 2012

The Final Presidential Debate

   So very often political punditry suffers from "group think", which in turn leads viewers and voters into a group think mindset. Voters who have decided on their candidate are susceptible to this, as they are already part of a group. Undecided/swing voters by their very nature are disparate from this. The topic of "who won the debate" is a question that hinges upon this difference.
   In the last two debates, Ryan vs. Biden and Obama vs. Romney Part Deux, the contests were close. Both were close enough that fans of either side could claim a win for their guy. The pundits and useless score keepers could even break it down into a more useless point scoring system. "Biden won here, Ryan won there." This is mostly, if not completely, frivolous. Scoring a presidential debate like a college debate is asinine.  In principal, that is treating the debate as if it happened in a vacuum, which it most certainly does not. All of the news and cable channels are guilty of this fallacy. 

   The first Presidential debate was bound to the trappings of the months of previous campaigning and events, the Vice Presidential debate was captive to all of the preceding, as was the second Presidential debate, and so shall tonight's debate be shackled to the confines of the antecedent history. Additionally, the main concern for debate success must be voter persuasion, and not some puerile pundit points scored that make Chris Matthews or Sean Hannity happy. How did the debates in sum affect the opinion of the precious undecided voters? In all three previous debates that has been a resounding win for the Romney/Ryan ticket.

   The first Obama/Romney debate was an Obama trouncing. The Biden/Ryan debate was exactly what both sides needed. Biden rallied the base and Ryan showed that he was well informed and ready for the job, but it would be Ryan win. Why? Because Joe, despite being more lucid than at any point in recent history, completely alienated many of the swing voters. The laughing and interrupting was a huge turn off to the undecideds who wanted to hear both opinions, and it was especially a turn off to the female undecideds who saw it as rude, childish, insecure and not becoming of a statesman. So the net result was Biden winning the battle (rallying the base), but losing the war (turning off undecided voters). Tactically Vice President Biden committed two big errors: first, "I always say what I mean" and second "we did not know they wanted more security" in response to the death of the American ambassador to Libya. Biden makes so many gaffes, such as "for the last four years the middle class has been buried" that having the sound bite of, "I always say what I mean" is damning. The VP candidate must show that they are ready for the job and not completely out to lunch. In regards to Libya, that was a bold face lie, and the avalanche of facts is showing it. Eroding trust is never beneficial to a candidate, especially in this economic climate. Of course many of these pundits continue with, "however most voters don't vote for a president based on the VP candidate." True, the VP debate only factors in for about 18% of voters, but here is the catch: that segment heavily overlaps with undecided voters. This means that the group of voters who will decide this election have been exposed to a decisive Romney win in the first debate, and a polite, knowledgeable and capable Ryan versus a bombastic, belligerent and bad-mannered Biden. All before going into the second Obama/Romney debate.

   By last Tuesday when Obama walked into Hofstra Hall, he was already facing alarming deficiencies. President Obama had to assuage the damage from his first debate, rally his base on top of what Biden did, win back undecideds whom Joe alienated, and begin to add new voters to his count. He succeeded in only the first two measures. Directly after the debate, focus groups for MSNBC and Fox gave the win to Romney. Why? Because Romney showed up very well again. Voters just needed to see him again to show that the first time around was not a fluke. Most importantly is this aspect: very few if any voters make a decision on the entirety of a debate, or a series of debates. The vast majority of people making up their mind are waiting to hear an answer on one to five topics. With the economy in it's current condition, the two most imminent topics are jobs and taxes. When Mitt gave his answers on tax REFORM, in which he included job creation, he won the election. It's that simple. Currently that leaves the debate tonight, and 15 days until voters go to the poll. What must President Obama and Governor Romney do tonight?

   For Governor Romney it is simple. He must show up, show that is he the same guy from the last two debates, that he has a solid grip on basic diplomacy, and go after the middle east failures. There are many ways he can highlight the foreign policy failures of this election, and as long as he does not go full tilt Biden, most of them should work. The task for President Obama is much more difficult. Having already lost concerning the dialog of economy and jobs, he must, MUST make a huge statement concerning the United States' place in the world. Mitt will definitely bring up China and how they are manipulating currency. This will be the President's opportunity to make up ground in foreign policy and economics. There are a lot of opinions on China, but the fact remains that they mine 95% of the rare earth minerals (and possibly up to 97%) responsible for computers, smartphones, MRI machines and so many of the things Americans take for granted. Yes, mining can start here, but at what cost or benefit? Diplomacy is paramount in dealing with China and that is likely Mr. Obama's biggest opening. What will he do with it?

   In the end will it even matter? Every candidate that has been at 50% or higher in the Gallup likely voter poll in mid October has won the race for President, every time. Mitt has been at or over 50% since the 10/9-15 rolling average Gallup poll. Furthermore, President Obama has not broken the 50% barrier at any time, and in the last few days he has held steady at 45%. What's more, the undecideds always break heavily for the challenger.

   At this point every last one of the lifeboats has departed, and it is all over except for the crying.

For debate analysis this evening, follow The Edwards Analysis on twitter tonight,

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