Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 Presidential Debate – Part 2 – Bar Set High for President Obama – Both Campaigns Challenge Moderator Role – The Close Election? – Maybe-Maybe Not

Mitt Romney on the Campaign Trail - image Washington Post
The second of three Presidential debates will be held tomorrow night, and the expectations for a rebound by Incumbent President, Barack Obama, are high. The media suggests that the President must appear more energized than he did in the debate in Denver, especially after the performance of Joe Biden in the Vice-Presidential Debate, which by reasonable standards, was a draw, giving the base of the Democrat party some enthusiasm, while V.P. GOP Candidate Paul Ryan tended to appeal more to the independent voter. The Hill is reporting that both GOP and Democrat “insiders” anticipate the President will do “better” in the second debate: “But Washington insiders of all ideological stripes concur that Obama is too competitive a man and too gifted a politician to slip up so dramatically for a second time, when the candidates go under the spotlight at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Tuesday.” That may be true, however, Romney has the recent experience of participating in a long series of GOP debates held over the summer, so many that viewers were beginning to develop “debate fatigue”. In retrospect and reviewing the debate tapes, the protracted primary debates strengthened Romney in any format and arena. The onus, therefore, is on the President to out-Romney Mitt Romney, and that is a high bar, indeed. Romney, over a period of campaigns, has honed his town hall –style debate, the question of Romney’s ability to connect in a Town Hall Style debate was asked and answered by Scott Conroy of Real Clear Politics>: The style poses a challenge for Romney, but: “But over the years he appears to have improved his ability to connect with voters on a personal level. For one thing, Romney is no stranger to question-and-answer sessions, having handled thousands of inquiries from mostly partisan voters in his four political campaigns over almost two decades. In fact, aides to Obama say the town-hall format is strength for their Republican opponent because of this experience.

During his 2008 presidential run, for example, so-called “Ask Mitt Anything” events were a staple of his time on the stump; some days he would often hold four or five such town-hall meetings. And during his 2012 primary campaign, particularly in the nation’s first voting state of New Hampshire, Romney did more of the same.”

One might suggest that the expectations are so high, that should the President appear more confident, it will indeed help his base support – given the fact that in the V.P. debate, one member of a focus group (CNN), gave the win to Biden because he did “better than Obama” in the Denver debate.

One may also suggest, that if the viewership is low for the second Presidential debate, those 80 individuals chosen to participate in the town-hall style debate, that are “undecided” (Selected by Gallup polling for this debate) may be a rarity as to the individuals who have or have not yet made up their minds as to for whom they are voting. The moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, has even drawn a bit of pre-debate criticism for suggesting she might ask follow-up questions during the debate – Time Magazine discucsse the fact that both the Obama and Romney campaign attorney’s have concerns that the debate format calls for little to no questions from the moderator deviating from those posed by the participants. However, one would hope that Crowley would stick to her guns and, should a question require a follow-up, she might open the floor for a little more debate on any given subject by asking a question or two of the candidates that are relevant to the original questions asked. The format will be similar to the one held between then Candidate George W. Bush and Democrat Candidate, Al Gore in 2000. The format gives both candidates the ability to speak directly to the audience, and answer the questions posed by individuals. This is where, from viewing the previous debate clips that Romney does indeed, excel, while the President in the last round of debates in 2008, appeared at times to ramble.

Although the media is now calling this debate a “draw”, which along partisan lines, it very well may be, there should arise a clear winner – however, it will depend a great deal on not only the ability to “connect” with the audience, but the ability to clearly state and answer the question at hand. To call this debate a draw before it happens, as did the Boston Herald, albeit, in a sarcastic way (given the support for Romney by the author, Holly Robichaud), the fact of the matter is, even if Mitt Romney “clean’s his clock” as suggested, the media will, most likely, if Obama appears more confident, call it a tie.

The Washington Post is billing the Presidential Contest as “tight”,
given their most recent poll which gives the President two points over Romney, or a statistical dead heat. That said, Real Clear Politics, and has painted a picture, using a combination of all polls taken, state by state, whereby Romney appears to be in the driver’s seat for the most part. They offer an electoral college map that gives an overview of states that, at this present time, are either solid, leaning, likely or tied (by the combined polls), and selects a state for either Romney or President Obama, depending on the outcome of the polls used. At the present time, the scenario appears to be that the President has a lock on ten states, (those are automatically given the candidate due to the percentage lead in polling being “out of reach” for the other candidate).

The likely and leaning states are then included in the total, and the balance are listed as “undecided” – as of today, the polls show the President with 201 electoral votes, and Mitt Romney with 191, and 146 are “toss-ups”. That said, when one looks at the polling data, in say Massachusetts, which is a given for the President, the polls used in the survey : here, show Obama with an average of 20plus point lead. The last poll on the boards was done by Public Policy Polling, taken October 10 and 11th, whereby the President has a 14 point advantage in the Bay State. This advantage is discussed by the pollster here where it is suggested that the President’s support had eroded in MA, Romney’s likability was up:

In the Presidential race Barack Obama's seeing the same kind of decline in Massachusetts that he is nationally. He leads Mitt Romney by 14 points, 55-41. That's down from an 18 point lead last month, and it's the smallest advantage we've found for him in the state all year. The big shift over the last month in Massachusetts has been among independent voters. They now support Romney 53-40, after giving Obama a 47-44 edge last month.

In further reading the poll marginals, one finds that the pollster used a sample of 41% Democrat, 16% Republican and 43% Unenrolled or Independent. The actual makeup of the electoral in MA as of 2010 (and before) Unenrolleds, 52%, Republican’s 12% and Democrats, 33% (others listed Green, Libertarian, etc., make up the balance). Therefore, without the proper sample based on the actual electorate, one might be hard-pressed to mathematically agree that the above poll simply adds up. For example there is an 8 point difference between the actual Democrats registered to vote and those taking the poll, there is 4 point plus for Republicans, and there is a 9 point deficit for “Independents” – therefore, if one were to take that 14 point lead, minus 8 points for oversampling Democrats – brings that to a plus 6 for Obama, plus 4 for over sample of Republicans, gives Obama a plus 10, and then minus 7 points (giving 2 points to Obama due to the % of Independents suggesting they are supporting the President in Massachusetts, which brings the final closer to an Obama plus 3, or a tie in the Bay State. Understanding that no poll is perfect, the fact that most of the polls in the Real Clear Politics combined methodology used a 2008 voter model, and/or are not closely aligned with the makeup of the states electorate to boot, then one might suggest the President has an inflated advantage in the polls.

Finally, one might also suggest if this is the case, then the electoral map may end up being a lot more red, than blue, with the exaction of 10 or so states (if that). Therefore, with the polls taken, the undecided’s, more likely at a lower percentage than 8 points, one might suggest there is little or nothing, this far into the game, to suggest the debate will count one way or another, regardless of expectations. Of course, no one has a crystal ball as to what will actually occur on election day in November.

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