So it’s come to this. Obama performed so badly in his first debate that they sent out Joe Biden to yell his way to victory. Joe Biden’s attitude in this debate was not only unpleasant, it was sort of shocking.
I suspected going in that Ryan would have to be near perfect to win this debate. I knew that the media would take whatever Biden said and chalk it up to passion. If Biden made any kind of gaffe (like being extremely surly and blatantly rude), the media would squawk, “Oh, that’s just ole Joe.” And unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what happened.
Also unfortunate is the reaction from some of the polling following the debate. A CBS instapoll conducted after the debate gave Biden a win with a wide margin of about 20 points. And a follow up poll of registered voters gave Ryan a narrow win, 48% to 44%. This was well within the margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. On the other hand, a CNBC instapoll gave the debate to Ryan by a similarly large margin. The varied responses seem extraordinary to me, given the tone this debate took.
There are several possible reasons why the polling is coming out this way:
Biden’s yelling and general bite came across as passionate and engaging.
Ryan’s calm attitude and wonkish answers made him fade into the background.
Instant reactions are usually based more on emotional response, rather than policy and issues.
In truth, it may be a combination of all three, or none at all. I have a feeling that when all the dust settles, the polls regarding the debate may change a bit in Ryan’s favor. That is speculation, of course. Though it seems that the democrat base has been fired up by Biden’s performance enough to regain some footing in the race.
Because of the mixed reaction following the debate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the dial doesn’t move much in either direction. This seemed to be a debate designed to fire up base voters, rather than appeal to independents. Those who support Obama will say that Biden was passionate and that he really connected with the American people. Those who support Ryan (like myself) will say that he had the facts on his side and remained cool under pressure (and responded gracefully to Biden’s rude behavior).
Now we get to the opinion point of this column (as if it wasn’t already loaded with opinions). In my opinion, though I am admittedly biased in favor of Ryan, I thought that Joe Biden came across as extraordinarily rude and condescending. With this in mind, I am shocked at how the polling is coming out. I am blown away that Biden’s constant interruptions and surly attitude didn’t effect him in a more negative way. Like I said before, I can only hope that when the dust settles, and the air becomes clear, the debate will be seen in terms of facts, policy and substance, rather than tone and attitude.
There is evidence to suggest that perhaps my thinking is leading me in the right direction. The CNN poll I mentioned earlier also asked the question: “Who better expressed themselves?”, which I think gets to the core of issues, rather than simply attitude. On that poll, Ryan won by a 9 point margin. In addition, the general consensus in regards to Biden’s attitude was that it was disgraceful. One of CNN’s “undecideds” focus group members even called Biden a buffoon. Finally, Ryan’s win in the CNN poll (though admittedly narrow) gives me hope that the dust is already beginning to settle.
In the end, this debate, though hotly anticipated, will probably do little to sway independents. However, it should provide enough momentum to keep the Romney campaign moving at a nice clip. And hopefully, Ryan’s calm demeanor and wonkish answers will plant a seed in the minds of some undecided voters, which, further developed by Romney’s next two debates, will grow and bear fruit on November 6th.