Tuesday, October 05, 2004

"Winning" Debates

I was over at Gallup, where I found a reminder not to buy into spin.

We've all heard how John Kerry won the first Presidential Debate, and yes, John was strong on style and confidence, as he needed to be. But just as I noticed flaws in his positions and information, I also realized that the Debates are unlikely to provide him the shift in voter support he needs to win. I don't see the movement in demographics, to indicate that Kerry is pulling anyone away from Bush, and if Kerry can't do that he can't win.

But Gallup was also informative on that count. To be sure, they report that Kerry won the first Debate. Their site shows Kerry winning 53-37. OK for John, but there's more to the story, and the rest doesn't work out so well.

The Conventional Wisdom goes, that to be President you need to win these things, and certainly it's important for a President to be able to explain his positions and convince people. But there's more to this, than scoreboards. For instance, while most people say Kerry won the debate and "expressed himself more clearly" than Bush, things turn around on other points. Both men scored the same on understanding the issues, and Bush led on "Agreed with you more on the issues you care about", on being "more believable", on being "more likable", and especially "Demonstrated he is tough enough for the job", where Bush won over Kerry 54-37!

It's also a good idea to dust off the history books. Gallup says that in 2000, Gore won the first and third debates, while Bush took the 2nd, but a lot of people have forgotten that. In 1996, Clinton won both debates with Dole, but in 1992, Clinton won only one of the three debates - Ross Perot won the other two! In the only debate of 1988, Dukakis was judged the winner, and while Reagan edged Mondale in their second debate, in the first meeting Mondale trounced Reagan 54-35!

The Debates are useful, but they don't predict the winner, it seems. Just one more thing to remember.

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