Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Debate Prediction

So let me just get this in here before the big Presidential Debate tomorrow, and feel free to make fun of me if I am wrong.  I predict that Mitt won't do very well and the debate will be in no way a game changer.  Since the Mittster is on trajectory to lose, this outcome would be a strategic defeat for him.

First of all it's important to remember that Political Science has shown that for a variety of reasons debates don't have that big of a impact in a Presidential race.  At this point in a campaign most voters have made up their minds already and will interpret what happens in a debate as simply reinforcing what they already thought.  In fact, most people who watch these things are more like football fans turning in to root their team on, not try and make a decision on who to vote for.  John Kerry probably came as close as you can come to "winning" a debate (all three I'd say), he of course did not win.  Finally I'd add that campaigns spend a lot of time preparing for these things and so like convention speeches they are always "good enough." 

Even with those codifiers, it looks like Mitt is embracing a pretty bad strategy to boot, which certainly won't help him.  As the Pravda of the conservative movement (National Review) put it, team Romney has five big objectives:  "(1) explaining the “choice” between the two candidates’ agendas; (2) modulating his natural “aggressiveness” (which actually sounds like “defensiveness when challenged”); (3) exhibiting “discipline” (i.e., not committing gaffes); (4) using fiscal and economic data effectively; and (5) deploying personal anecdotes to “introduce himself” to people just now tuning in to the election."  Let's go through these priorities one by one.

1.  Mitt has been running for president for six years now.  He's been the GOP front runner since last fall and recently had a speech on national television during his convention to explain this.  He hasn't exactly been doing a good job of it.  If he can't explain why his policies would be better than Obama's during his acceptance speech or during the summer, how' he going to do it in a 90 minute debate?

2.  This is not a bad idea in and of itself, but its more of a method of style than an actual goal to meet during the debate.  Reagan was very good at expressing contempt warmly, Romney just seems to get mad.

3.  Again this isn't much of a goal.  A bad gaffe might make Mitt look bad, and more importantly dominate the post debate media spin wars.  But it won't change the dynamics of the race.  In addition, the fact that Mitt has to pursue five different, possibly conflicting, objectives has got to be a bit confusing, thus raising the risk of the dreaded gaffes.

4.  This has to be a bad idea.  A large section of dwindling supply of genuine undecided voters are low-information voters, the types of people who probably won't respond well to a bunch of statistics about GDP growth targets.  Mitt is running for President not making a pitch to a group of junk bond inventors, he needs a Clintonesque "I feel your pain" moment, not a Ross Perot pie chart moment.

5.  This goes back to point number one.  How is Mitt going to "introduce" himself if he couldn't during his own convention, a multi-day media bonanza he had complete control over?  Obama is not going to sit there the whole time and keep quite, he's got some anecdotes he can pull out to introduce another Romney to the nation too.

In short, a terrible plan.

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