Not Initial Reactions

It’s a bit easier to write a sensible reaction peice when you’re no longer drunk from an exhilarating game of Debate Bingo and have had a bit more time to consider the impact of the debate. That said, I largely stand by my initial reaction: that is, Palin gained no ground and her failure to do so equates to a loss, her showing up and managing to avoid defecating in her pants notwithstanding. As each opportunity to close the gap passes, the McCain campaign’s task grows increasingly difficult.

As I was explaining to coworker earlier, I think the punditry, and so-called “educated voters” to a certain extent, tend to sell “low information voters” short. The media generally thinks that those who don’t religiously follow politics are incapable of perceiving the legitimacy gap between Biden’s informed and mostly direct answers and Palin’s evasive platitudes. But as the short term polling shows, they can, and Biden staying out of Palin’s way helped.

I’ll add though that when Palin was at her most effective (and I use the term loosely) bloviating about change without actually showing daylight between McCain and Bush, she was essentially echoing Democratic talking points and strengths. So long as McCain and Palin can’t legitimately distance themselves from the Bush Administration without sounding like watered-down Democracts, the politics of the campaign will continue to favor Obama. Coupled with the environment of the campaign — the economy — it will be quite a difficult, but not impossible, path to a McCain victory.

Winning People Who Vote

I’m scrambling to work my way through an RSS reader stuffed with well over 100 posts, trying to pack, and get to work at the same time, so please forgive me for not having a direct link to polling results last night. You’ll have to live with Ezra Klein’s quote:

At the end of the day, it wasn’t about expectations. Palin surpassed hers. Shattered them, in fact. The stumbling, tongue-tied, intellectually uncertain novice who withered before Katie Couric’s steady questioning was absent this evening. Palin was confident, on-message, and at times, sharp. But it didn’t matter. The polls were clear: CNN showed 51 percent for Biden, 36 percent for Palin. CBS, restricting their sample to undecided voters, showed 46 percent for Biden, 21 percent for Palin. Like McCain before her, Palin performed at the top of her game, and it wasn’t enough.

I saw Chuck Todd talking on Morning Joe sort of incredulously remarking that the public might feel that legitimate events in the world (the banking meltdown, War in Iraq, etc.) call for legitimate leaders, not a trained monkey who can recite talking points. Go figure.

Initial Reactions

I think my initial reaction will echo the conventional wisdom (as supported by the pundity) that Sarah Palin exceeded the expectations set for her. That is, she attended the debate, inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide, and spewed back Republican talking points without being forced to elucidate. She employed a media training tactic called “bridging” to great effect; she “bridged” a gives question to issues or talking points with which she felt more comfortable. This was going to be enough for Palin to “succeed.”

On the other hand, Joe Biden seemed largely defensive (though mostly correct) and totally inable to land a “knock out punch.” There was no way for Biden to differentiate himself positively. Either he exhaled loudly through the microphone, or explained competently issues of foreign policy, probably leaving most Americans as lost as Alice. Furthering this problem, Gwen Ifill utterly refused to push for legitimate or specific answers, and in this sense completely failed to offer opportunities for legitimate differentiation.

But here’s the bottom line: Sarah Palin was not able to gain ground. She defended her own credibility in the most shallow and insubstantial way, and in this sense managed to not lose ground. She was not able to legitimately claim difference between Bush and McCain and was not able to substantively show why McCain’s plans would better serve America. But so long as Bush’s policies continue to drag us to the depths, this marked similarity between McCain-Palin and Biden-Obama will continue to serve the Democratic ticket well. A draw will not benefit a losing ticket.

Qualifications

Ezra Klein links to an analysis of 2000 voters showing that of several traits that influenced voters, “knowledgable” was pretty low on the list.

Surveys conducted by the National Election Study team in each presidential year since 1980 have asked prospective voters to rate the presidential candidates on a variety of specific traits. In 2000, for example, survey respondents were asked how well the phrases “moral,” “really cares about people like you,” “knowledgeable,” and “provides strong leadership” described Bush and Al Gore. The biggest difference in perceptions of the two candidates was that people saw Bush as considerably less “knowledgeable” than Gore — by 11 points on a 100-point scale. (They also saw Bush as less empathetic, but most considered him a stronger leader.) 

How much did that matter? My analysis suggests that an undecided voter who saw Bush as 11 points less “knowledgeable” than Gore was only about 1.3% less likely to vote for Bush as a result. Comparable differences on the other trait dimensions were three to five times as consequential. Clearly, voters in 2000 were much more concerned about electing someone who was strong, empathetic, and moral, with “knowledgeable” a distant fourth. And they weren’t just giving the genial anti-intellectual Bush a pass — much the same pattern has held in other recent elections.

…But the people who matter — the voters whose minds are still not made up — will mostly not care whether Palin can rattle off the names of Supreme Court cases or world leaders. If she comes across as strong and empathetic, that may be enough.

I think this is wrong for a few reasons. 

First, the political climate of the 2000 election was vastly different. Our budget was running a surplus, recent foreign policy forays had been succesful, 9/11 hadn’t happened, and our economy was still quite strong (though showing signs of weakness). The point is, there really weren’t a terrible number of issues on which “knowledge” would have made a tremendous difference. Conversly, we’re mired in a host of problems from a misguided (and expensive) foreign policy to a faltering economy to cocaine-fueled sex parties in the Department of the Interior. Times like these require competence. 

Secondly, Sarah Palin isn’t merely unknowlegable, she’s embarassingly and quite obviously in over her head. Perhaps many voters can’t name foreign dignitaries, but most people can tell you what newspapers they read or name more than one court decision (or at least an issue like the “gun ban”). As I’ve argued before, Sarah Palin’s qualifaction problem isn’t just that she’s unqualified, it’s that she’s so obviously unqualified. 

Finally, any criticism of Sarah Palin is ultimately a criticism of John McCain. People who see Sarah Palin embarass herself and her party really see the shallow cynicism and lack of seriousness with which John McCain has run his campaign. Her performance reflects on John McCain’s judgment — one his claimed strengths — not merely on her fitness for office alone.

Admissions and Round Up

So first thing’s first: I didn’t see all of the debate. I was watching in erm, mixed company, and felt that subjecting my guests to unrestrained yelling at the TV that may or may not contradict their own personal beliefs was certainly no way to be a good host.  I’ll have more, surely outdated opinion later when I’ve had time to watch the whole thing. For now though, you’ll have to settle for a few links.

Like I said, I’ll be back later with some of my own thoughts, but for now, here’s a video of Biden’s post-debate pwnage.

Nose Dives

Why Vetting is Important

The above is a chart showing changes in favorable/unfavorable differences on the respective tickets. A value above zero means a greater percentage of people view you favorably than unfavorably. If, on the other hand, you have a score of -4 like Sarah Palin, it means more people view you unfavorably than view you favorably.

Smackdown

In preperation of Rudy speaking, arguably the greatest Biden video evar.