No winners, just a debate.

Just a quick thought: Nobody “won” the presidential debate tonight. It wasn’t the kind of a debate that anybody could win, in that it wasn’t game-like. Both were strong speakers. Personally I think that Barack Obama did a better job in a few regards, but I think it’s disingenuous for anybody to claim that there was a “winner.”

Speaking of disingenuous, Rudy Guliani just claimed that McCain “clearly won.” Of course, the McCain campaign started claiming that this morning, before McCain even agreed to participate in the debate. I suppose the standards of such things demand that both sides insist that they won. But it’s just not true.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

13 replies on “No winners, just a debate.”

  1. FWIW, I don’t mean to discredit the value of public perception. We’ll see what the polls say. Clearly, if we see a big gap in the public belief of who did better, then the effect is that somebody “won,” in the sense that he got a bigger boost out of it than his opponent. But that’s winning public support, not winning the debate.

  2. I disagree, foreign policy was supposed to be McCain’s thing, but when he characterized American support for the Coup and dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf as aiding a “failed state” he was either lying or stupid. It was a cynical ploy that has enraged the Paks.

    And his defense of “the surge” as some strategy rather than a tactic he must have forgotten that the real end was to get a stable, unified Iraqi government; and I’m still looking for evidence of that.

  3. My opinion on debates has been that they really don’t matter–people who go into them liking candidate A usually think that candidate A was the one who won. I don’t know that I’d say it’s active bias or a predisposition to agree with the candidate (since presumably the voter in question didn’t decide to support the candidate on a whim but because of stated policy positions).

    How undecideds think about things is kind of an intriguing question with no clear answer–a shill like Rudy certainly couldn’t tell us. The focus group info I’m hearing is that it was a good debate for both candidates, although the empirical data suggests that Obama’s gains in public perception were stronger than McCain’s.

    The quick-polling seems to jive with that, although this is one of those instances where I trust focus groups more than people who had to decide who won what we just watched, as there’s not a reliable pre-debate benchmark to gauge the responses against.

    Not that I really care one way or the other; Kerry killed in the foreign policy debate four years ago according to pretty much every available focus group (you’ll recall Bush’s one major score that evening was “you forgot Poland!”) and the guy still lost the election. The candidates both get to share their points of view in September and October, but it’s the voter who always gets the last word.

  4. My take is that McCain lost points due to his body language i.e. not looking Obama in the eye, seemingly looking down a lot (he was actually looking at the moderator) and looking overall phyisically uncomfortable. Obama on the other hand would look to make eye contact with McCain and seemed at ease with the entire setting.

  5. McCain’s BS about Pakistan being a failed state was no accident – he’s been riding that horse for a while. Here’s Juan Cole taking it apart in February (the link is much recommended as a brief overview of modern Pakistani history, too).


    And Spain! He’s staying committed to telling SPAIN to bugger off. Batshit crazy old man who puts his own soon-to-be-shattered-dreams ahead of country.


    My first initial responses was one close to Waldo’s but like many people, I assumed a tie goes to Obama.

    But, then I watched the above video, and I have to say, that as people remember this and watch highlights, I hazard to say that Obama comes out as the clear winner.

    Its all about impressions, watch it, and then watch it with the sound turned off.

    And the undecideds seem to really breaking for Obama in these focus groups . . . in the end I dont really think the undecideds are really undecided and I think the environment being what it is they are just looking for a reason to vote Democratic.

    Also, I think McCain’s age and general health in the end is a subconscious empediment to folks . . . now of course people have a hard time releating to someone who doesnt look like them, but also I think its hardwired into our genes to NOT pick the guy who looks old and sickly to be our leader, espeacilly in a time of crisis . . . it just might simply come down to that.

    Obama looked young and strong and calm, McCain, well you know . . .

    Like many I think this was a 1980 moment: in 80 the Ds spent all summer trying to scare people about Reagan, and then he came across as a completely strong likable guy. In that way the Ds might have been doing everything they could to get Ronald Reagan elected.

  7. Thanks JC, I also think this is part of the picture:

    What McCain Didn’t Do At The Debate: Force A Sarah Palin Moment

    By Greg Sargent – September 27, 2008, 9:40AM

    “On reflection, last night’s debate is best understood by what McCain failed to do do. With the dynamic of the race hardening daily in Obama’s favor, McCain needed to force a moment where Obama’s supposed inexperience and lack of global knowledge jarred viewers into a sudden sense that putting him in charge is risky and dangerous — hence McCain’s repetition of that word.

    He didn’t do that. At all.”

    Rasmussen is up with its pre-debate tracker showing Obama with his largest lead all election cycle (at 50 btw), McCain really needed a knock out.

    Also, it is my belief that the polls are completely getting their turnout models wrong–and Obama could even be stronger than they are showing.

    SurveyUSA (as far as know a very good pollster) had Obama winning VA with 51%, right?

    But even so they only had Obama’s African American support at 84% Bellow the 87% that Kerry received from the same demographic in VA! Is that possible?

    See something that people missed in criticizing Obama’s conservative Christian outreach as a waste of time, is that he was never targeting white evangelicals as the pundents assumed, his target has always been conservative, extremely religious African Americans, the ones who voted for Bush.

  8. I think Sam’s statement, “My opinion on debates has been that they really don’t matter–people who go into them liking candidate A usually think that candidate A was the one who won,” is dead-on.

    Heck, I didn’t even watch the debate, and I think he won. You know, that guy–the one in the suit!

  9. I think that Obama did what he had to do and McCain failed at what he had to do. Obama had to be as good or better than McCain. McCain had to make Obama look like a risky or unexperienced pick.

    It’s wasn’t a big win and it’s effects might only last till Sunday night @ 6pm when the bailout package needs to be finished or all hell’s going to break out in the Asian stock market openings.

  10. Smart analysis from Fallows here:

    The audience that matters is people who start out undecided or uncertain — and finally are looking for emotional reassurance about who they can imagine as president for the next four years. In general, such viewers are only now starting to pay serious attention to the campaign — in contrast to people already committed to helping (or stopping) one of the candidates. That is why the first debate is a unique “re-launch” opportunity for the candidates to present themselves to people who realize it’s time to make up their minds

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