Friday, September 26, 2008

The First Presidential Debate

I just got done watching the first presidential debate. Overall, I thought both candidates held their ground but that McCain won by a small margin. McCain was on the offensive far more, seemed to have a greater command of the facts, and was able to demonstrate how much experience he has relative to Obama. (Something that I think will come back to haunt Palin in comparison and something the Obama campaign is likely to latch onto.) It didn't help Obama to keep repeating the phrase "John is right."

Overall, I think this debate may give a small bump to McCain, but nothing too significant. What will be particularly interesting is to see the Biden-Palin debate next Thursday.


thinking said...

McCain at many times came across as kind of a condescending, petulant individual, complete with all sorts of scowls and facial tics.

On the atmospherics and optics, Obama won by a mile.

It is so funny hearing McCain focus so much on earmarks, which are tiny spit in the bucket of our federal budget deficit. He really has no answers.

McCain also avoided answering Obama's charge that McCain was wrong in just about every way going into Iraq, which is true.

The more I see of McCain the more predictable and worn his act becomes. However, Obama always impresses as someone who is very smart and very poised.

I do agree that this debate will not be much of a game changer either way.

I also agree that the experience argument and dropping names of foreign leaders will come back to haunt Palin in the VP debate.

Ultimately, though, I don't really care debate skills, but policies and competency, and in those areas I believe Obama is miles ahead.

thinking said...

Speaking of Palin, isn't it a bit weird that she is not one of the surrogates appearing on the news shows to spin things for McCain?

Biden is out there being interviewed on what he thought about the debate (of course his answers will be predictably for Obama).

In general, I think it's normal for the veep choice to be one of the main campaign surrogates after a debate.

It's really striking how the media access to Palin is so controlled, and it's a scary sign of her ability and knowledge.

Jason B. said...

It didn't help Obama to keep repeating the phrase "John is right."

Brian, in your view, did it help McCain to keep repeating the phrase "Senator Obama does not understand"?

If your answer is yes: Is that because you personally gravitate toward candidates whose first instinct is to attack rather than find common ground, or because you think more voters do so? And if it's the latter, would you be critical or supportive of that tendency in voters?

Brian Hollar said...


Good question. I think for McCain to keep repeating that phrase probably made both candidates look bad. It makes McCain look hostile and Obama being too much on the defense. My impression is that it probably hurts Obama more than McCain.

In my comments, I'm trying to judge how I think the candidates are generally perceived by the public. For good or for ill, voters remember it when politicians get in jabs against each other. Personally, I don't like negative campaigning or attacks, but have to admit it can stick with voters. (I still remember when Dan Quayle got zinged by Lloyd Bentsen about being "no Jack Kennedy.")

CNN had live feedback tonight where Democrats, Republicans, and Independents had dials to indicate how they responded to comments during the debate. The trends tended to go down when McCain was on the offense. I think most people don't like it, but that it often leads to positive results in polls. (Which is why candidates do it.) I'm not supportive of this tendency and wish their was more substantive debate between candidates and parties on the issues.

Overall, I thought tonight's debate was mostly civil and commend both candidates for their expertise and poise. I think McCain also came across better than expected tonight relative to Obama because Obama has such a mythos sururounding him about how good an orator he is. I think this builds up hard to meet expectations for him and can have a slightly negative effect on the perception of his public performances.

Jason B. said...

In my comments, I'm trying to judge how I think the candidates are generally perceived by the public. For good or for ill, voters remember it when politicians get in jabs against each other.

I really think it would improve your blogging (not that you should necessarily care what I think) to make that what-people-think vs. what-Brian-thinks distinction more clear -- and to emphasize the latter more. Personally I find it not very interesting to hear you offer a take on the opinions of others when you fail to present any data that shows what anyone else thinks. I mean, I'll buy that you are an expert on Brian Hollar, but I daresay you are overconfident in your Everyman instincts: in particular, consider that Obama defeated Hillary and is now leading McCain in the polls, yet all the while pundits have remarked again and again on Obama's hesitancy to go on the attack.

Brian Hollar said...


I appreciate the feedback. To clarify, what I wrote were my impressions of the debate. I'm assuming others perceived it in a similar way and am also writing on how I think that perception will impact voters on the margin.

I don't particularly like negative campaigning, but think it can sometimes have an impact. I don't think McCain was overly negative tonight, but was definitely on the offense and kept Obama on the defense. I think that hurts Obama in a small way by making McCain look more in control of the debate and able to dominate Obama.

I think the pundits are correct when they say Obama is hesitant to go on the attack. Overall, this hesitancy may either a) appeal to voters or b) have a negative effect that Obama compensates for in other ways. Just because he beat out Hilary and is leading McCain in the polls doesn't mean that this observation is incorrect. I don't think Obama attacks well and it's in his best interest not to do so. There's a lot more going on in this election than the candidates tendency to go on the offense or not and I don't think this will be a strongly determinative factor in this election.

We can get data in the next day or so to see how well my "Everyman instincts" fare as poll data becomes available about tonight's debate.

For the record, I do wish there was more substantive debate on issues between candidates, but ironically a presidential debate is not the forum for that to happen in. Politicians know debates are a time when they can showcase themselves and respond accordingly. I wish there were more forums like the Saddleback event to get a better vetting of the candidates and their views on the issues.