One more on style vs. substance

A friend just re-tweeted this:

This has nothing to do with substance. If Ryan had spoken like Biden, and vice versa, he would have won. Style matters.

Am I crazy, but does the substance inform the style?  Does the fact that Biden could confidently call out Ryan for actually lying allow a more aggressive style.  Of course, Obama could have done that, too.  I don’t know, I’d just like to think that who wins a debate is more than who can be the “alpha dog.”

NYT: I hope others aren’t concerned with style over subtance

Just went further in the the NYT Liveblog for this nugget:

If the split screen during last week’s presidential debate betrayed a slow and unresponsive president, it is revealing something else tonight.

Mr. Biden has been an explosion of reactions all night: laughing, rolling his eyes, grimacing, sighing, furrowing his brow and practically bursting out of his skin to jump at every answer.

The question is: How will it play?

Among hard-core supporters, it will probably be a good thing, giving them the sense that the vice president is aggressively challenging the Republican ticket.

But to others — maybe independents — it may just look as if the vice president had way too many cups of coffee, or maybe Red Bulls.

Shorter NYT Reporters: wouldn’t it be a shame if other people were paying attention to style over substance.  I wonder where they could get that idea?

Style vs. Substance

NYT’s Nagourney writes:

One of the big questions in the next 24 hours is whether this debate will be judged more on style than the detail of the exchanges. That is something the Obama campaign is worrying about – and the Romney campaign is hoping for – as this debate plays out.

Mr. Biden has repeatedly made the case against Mr. Ryan — and Mr. Romney – that Mr. Obama did not during last week’s presidential debate. But substance aside, will Mr. Biden be scored for his style? Will his laughing, eye-rolling and interrupting be seen as too pushy, too aggressive, too disrespectful?

Democrats will certainly argue that is the worst kind of political analysis – style over substance. But as Al Gore can certainly attest, that often is the way debates are judged. And Republicans will surely push that line in the hours ahead.

Will it work? Mr. Biden is not running for president, so at least in theory, he can afford to sacrifice some likability in the service of firing up the Democratic base and putting into the political atmosphere the Democratic arguments that Mr. Obama failed to make last week.

Will the Republican attack on this line work?  Only if the media lets it.  Honestly, journalists hated Al Gore (the evidence is copious) so they were ready to jump on anything.  They don’t hate Biden (not that they love him).  I just don’t see it getting the same traction this side of Fox News.  And if the instant polls give Biden a win, that will drive the narrative.

Good reason for liberals not to panic

From the Gallup website:


Now, all the Political Science models that predict elections using presidential approval use those approval numbers from the Summer, but it is truly hard to imagine a president with 51% approval rating (and a net 9% approval).

Biden’s job in the debates

Not likely he’ll actually persuade many voters, but he certainly can fire up Democrats.  Silver:

The excitable Mr. Biden should have no trouble maintaining a fiery demeanor — as he did in his convention speech in Charlotte, N.C., where he gave an effective defense of Mr. Obama’s record. Mr. Biden may also have relatively little to lose by being a cheerleader for Mr. Obama, even if that is not the most appealing strategy for undecided voters, most of whom disapprove of Mr. Obama’s performance.

Political science research is divided on the impact of presidential debates — the one in Denver clearly seemed to matter quite a bit — but there is even less evidence that vice-presidential debates can sway voters. Even the famous 1988 debate between Senators Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle produced little obvious shift in the polls toward Mr. Bentsen, the perceived winner, and his running mate, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

The enthusiasm gap may be a different matter. In general, it is easier to persuade voters to turn out than to compel them to change their minds.

It seems plausible that roughly half of Mr. Romney’s postdebate bounce — which appears to in the range of three to four points on average in the polls — has resulted from the shift in enthusiasm. It will be Mr. Biden’s job in Danville to work on that half of the problem. Then Mr. Obama will need to improve his performance in the last two debates to get back the rest of what he lost in Denver.

And here’s Ezra’s conclusion to his nice post about what he has learned from “debating” (in various interviews) Paul Ryan:

In a way, the Ryan-Biden match-up is like one of those classic video game match-ups where you pit the burly wrestler against the lithe ninja. The two debaters have completely different strengths. Ryan is a wonk who tends to make abstract budget promises that lead to questions he can’t quite answer about the human consequences. Biden is a non-wonk who sees human consequences more clearly than he sees budgets, and when he gets tripped up, it’s usually because he got too loose and said something that was meant to be folksy but that came out as offensive. In a way, their strengths are perfectly matched to exploit the other’s weaknesses.

It’s going to be a fun debate.

The damn public

If you honestly think that Obama is further to the left than Romney is to the right, you are either delusional or know nothing about American politics.  Alas, that seems to be the judgment of the American public as a whole.  Via the Monkey Cage:

And Sides’ comments:

Perhaps you’ve heard about Romney’s pivot to the center in last week’s debate—what it means, whether it will work, how Obama is responding, etc.  Yesterday, Bill Clinton described his reaction to Romney’s performance thusly: “Wow, here’s old moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy?”

New survey data suggests that voters’ reaction was far less dramatic.  In fact, voters didn’t perceive Romney’s underlying ideology any differently after the debate…

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Romney may not have needed this pivot to the center anyway.  Even though he is perceived as more conservative than the average voter—and increasingly so—he is still closer to the average voter than is Obama. This belies the notion that Romney’s conservative positions in the primary have damaged him in the general election.

Sadly, it also belies reality.

Battleground states vs. national polls

It’s become pretty clear that Romney has made greater gains in national polls than he has in polls of swing states.  Nate Silver has a long analysis that basically comes down to: here’s a bunch of different ideas but we cannot really tell which one it is.   And that’s fair, but I think both Chait and Cohn are onto something (which is also the point I made in class yesterday).  Chait:

 The apparent split between the national vote and the electoral college has some analysts, like Nate Silver, groping for an explanation, but the answer seems fairly obvious to me: Swing states have been soaked in political information for months, with round-the-clock advertising, campaigning, and local news coverage of candidate love-bombing. The non-swing majority of America hasn’t. New information from the debates is more likely to change your mind if you just tuned in to the Denver debate than if you had been hiding under your sofa while Obama and Romney pounded down your front door.

That sounds exactly right to me.  And here’s Cohn offering up similar possibilities:

Simply put: campaigns might matter. There hasn’t been a campaign where the battleground states have endured so many advertisements for so long before the rest of the country even began to tune in. This was also a campaign where the conventional wisdom has long held that attacks on Romney did alot of damage, especially in Ohio. While most of the country tuned in and saw Romney unadulterated by months of advertisements, voters in the battleground states might have more entrenched and cynical views of the Republican nominee. Relatedly, there might just be fewer undecided or weak supporters in the battleground states than there are nationally, in part because they’ve been thinking about this longer. It’s even possible that Democrats might be more enthusiastic and energized in the battleground states than they are nationally, which might leave them better positioned in likely voter models.

I’m not prepared to conclude that Romney is ahead nationally– though it is entirely possible.  I am willing to conclude, though, that he got more of a national bump than he did in the battleground states.  And given how hotly contested these states have been for months and months, I think that is an entirely logical conclusion.

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