Friday, October 08, 2004

Debate II

My unpolluted opinion is that it was too close to call. (I also thought the first debate was too close to call.) The major change in the dynamics was that Bush spent a lot more time talking about Kerry's Senate record. This factor put Kerry on the defensive more than he was in the first debate. Moreover, the questions weren't all about Bush's record, like they were in the first debate, which further put Kerry on the defensive. However, Kerry skillfully rose to meet the challenge, fighting Bush to a draw, even though Bush did better than in the first debate.

Miscellaneous remarks:

(1) Bush still didn't keep his cool as well as Kerry; he seemed irritated most of the time.

(2) It will be hard to assess the effect of this debate on the polls because it comes only three days after the VP debate and five days before the last presidential debate. Therefore, any poll trend predications are only marginally scientific in the Popperian sense. That being said, if all you care about is foreign policy, then the second debate won't change your vote if the first one didn't - there was little new here. Likewise, if your vote swings on stylistic aspects of the candidates performances, then you won't be swung by the second debate if you weren't by the first. Furthermore, I didn't discern a clear winner on domestic policy, so I wouldn't expect much change in the polls on that basis either, though I'm less confident about this last point.

(3) I really wanted a more specific answer to the question on Iran. I think the questioner wanted to know whether military force was an option or not. Kerry said we'll get "tough" with Iran if we have to, which could mean (more) sanctions, or military force, or something in between (say, a naval blockade). Bush also failed to say whether military force was an option.

(4) Abstaining from reading debate commentary thus far has been difficult for me - it's almost like there's some chemical dependency here - like my need for Dr. Pepper.

Update: There seems to be a consensus that Bush was more animated this time - I noticed but thought the difference was minimal, probably because I didn't think Bush came off as tired in the first debate, just irritated by Kerry, as he was in this debate.

Also, Jonah Goldberg has posted to the Corner an email from a reader arguing that wonkish types like myself don't perceive the debate the same as "normal" folks, a thesis I readily endorse. The moral is to be humble about making predictions of how voters perceive the debates.

For some reason I forgot to mention the Afghan election this Saturday. Coming right after the debate, it's effect on the (American) polls will be inseparable from the effect of tonight's debate. Focus groups of debate-watchers provide some info, but it's connection to national polls must be inferred. Moreover, focus-group polls don't capture the effect of the all-important post-debate spin in the media.

Of course, the Afghan elections are vitally important in and of themselves, regardless of any political points they score over here. I pray they go well.

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