As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Yes, Debates Do Make a Difference

One of the myths I’ve been hearing on TV and from other reliable sources of information – yes, I’m being sarcastic – is that presidential debates generally don’t do much to affect the election.

This is untrue, or at least unproven. Most of the time, polls taken before the debates have looked different the polls taken after the debates. And in few cases, substantially different.

The debates may represent a particularly plump opportunity for Romney, given the complaints about him from voters. Many who are undecided or leaning toward Obama say they feel they are not yet comfortable with Romney or do not know enough about his proposals. With the debates, Romney can change both of these perceptions.

The confusion among the cognoscenti about the value of the debates may center of the contention, which is correct, that the debates have not usually affected the outcome of the race. But this is only because someone was so far ahead that losing the debates didn’t cause them to lose the election, or because winning the debates simply padded their lead.

But the debates did appear to have an affect.

Take a look at this graphic by Gallup of polling before and after debates.

As you can see, the debates may well have won the election for George W. Bush in 2000, Ronald Reagan in 1980, and John F. Kennedy in 1960. And there were significant shifts of opinion in 1976, 2004, and, too a lesser extent, in 1992.

The 2008 election is not included here, but according to the daily averaging of 2008 polls by RealClearPolitics, the debates did not have a major effect that year, increasing Obama’s lead by perhaps a couple of points.

To join the ranks of those who have benefited from the debates, Romney will have to both make himself likable – perhaps by not trying so hard to be likable – and be specific about how his proposals will help all Americans, as well as segments of the population.

A shift of just a few points could bring Romney the presidency.

With the economy in the tank and disorder growing overseas, many voters are looking for another answer. Romney perhaps only needs to provide it.

40 Responses to Yes, Debates Do Make a Difference

  1. Romney has to come out strong.
    Not ‘beating’ Obama, but saying to the American people, the US Economy is a failure, This guy has been a failure. These are the reasons why it’s been a failure. His policies won’t change our economic future except to make them worse.
    Every promise he makes has worked out wrong. He has hidden things from us, and while he promises one thing, he does something else, all the while making excuses.
    You wouldn’t take excuses from your kids, your students, your boss, your husband, your wife, your co-workers.
    Why do you take excuses from the President who keeps asking for more and more control over your life.

  2. So far, the only specifics we’ve heard from MrObama is his plan to borrow more money to give to his favorite groups, make Dem voters out of illegal aliens, and to give it all away to Russia when he’s in a ” more flexible” position.
    MrRomney has proposed to revamp, redo and remodel Obamacare where possible and to scrap the unworkable parts. He plans to cut unneccessary programs, departments and generally pare down the size of the Federal government. He proposes to redesign the Federal income tax tables, to shore up Social Security and Medicare with a new and varied plan and to maintain our military at it’s current level.

    Just how more specific can the Romney/Ryan team be to satisfy the MSM and to give the undecided voter something to ponder.

    I have a problem with the meme that MrRomney isn’t ‘likeable’. Who says so? the biased, Obama-supporting media who think he’s just so appealing?
    Some of us actually think MrObama is a mean, little man who uses ridicule and bully tactics on his opponents, We also believe that MrObama is a fraud who catapulted into the WhiteHouse with a perfect storm of voter’s discontent, a horrible economy, a miserable war and the unfettered love of a compliant media.

    • Well said, srdem. My only variation would be on Obamacare. He promised to repeal Obamacare, not tinker with it. I plan on holding him to that commitment. That’s why I’ve been supporting as many conservative candidates for senate as possible. We need control of the Senate to repeal Obamacare.

  3. Agree, Keith, Romney shouldn´t try to be so likeable, he should just be his normal self, that is absolutely good enough. I read that the DNC spokesman tries to lower the expectations on Obama by saying that Romney will win the first debate !! They obviously want Obama to be the underdog here but that is not going to play given all the praise that has been heaped on Obama as a wonderboy when it comes to, well, everything. Obama is often longwinding and always unclear. Romney will hopefully outshine him with his brisk efficiency and confidence. He also has all the issues on his side. He can offer hope ,new solutions and a new future while Obama can offer, well, more ruin and despair.

  4. Please make that “some” voters have a problem…this was so sweeping. And it’s the “line” now–people don’t feel comfortable, etc. Maybe the press thinks this is a fun horse race (lower expectations–Obama doing day job, hasn’t debated recently), tsk tsk over any lines Romney might want to use…but to many of us, this is crucial–I am not even sure I can sustain this level of disgust and anxiety four more yrs. It’s taking a toll.

    • @Star – Go for another four years? Sure you can Star. From what I read, your posts just drip with anger, pain, disgust, and angst. You may say you don’t like it, but your actions say otherwise.

      I hope you have a change of heart and move on – maybe build someone up rather than tearing them down. Love / Hate. There is a lot of real estate in between to operate.

        • Oh, and who am I? I have been labeled a troll among many other really professional designators in this Blog. I am, who you want me to be. ;)

          • Funny… If i may extend the line of discourse along thematic lines – all the worlds a stage, and …. well, you know the rest…lol…

          • Nice one! Like Romney, I guess I will be disappointing you… at least for another 4 years… The trouble with “begone” is it operates in the great circle of life… Like the tides of liberals swarming on the beaches of victory, a few of us will get picked off by the very “few tools” available to the Conservative right – BEATINGS, FEAR, INTOLERANCE, & HATE.

            Want to win? Want the power? Read my lips – it is in the CENTER – you get run over by VOTES!

            Geez, I should get paid for the enlightenment… Let me check my Welfare Contract…

  5. Historians say that Kennedy won the election because of the debates with Nixon, not because of content, but because of appearance and humor. Kennedy was given the best lighting, the best makeup, the best TV look. Romney HAS to bring his OWN makeup people for these events. Look at how he was made up for the 60 Minutes interview. Look how the MSM made McCain look in ’08.

    Hate to say it, but if Romney ends up looking like Nixon did, he’s got problems. I know he can beat Obama in a one on one brain game, Obama can’t speak off the teleprompter without sounding like a bumbling fool, but that’s not what people SEE. And we are a Madison Ave. society, thank you Madmen.

  6. srdem65 – I think you may be missing the point or, more likely, may not like the answer. Keith is absolutely correct in the blunt assertions that; (a) a shift in a few percentage points can make a difference in an election
    (b) any “event”, to include debates, can provide the platform from which a change can result.
    (c) Romney (as would make sense), will have to make himself more likable and inject some specificity into his campaign, or create the illusion thereof.

    Folks with pointy beards and terminal degrees in the human condition would say it all comes down to owning a piece of the voters mind. This election, like others, is about marketing a product / service – that simple. Whatever candidate is most effective in that endeavor wins the prize. It is, at the end of the day, about perceptions. To that end, just cuz you like Mitt and think he is plenty specific does not mean a majority of others do. In fact, they don’t.

    Keith is trying to explain this simple truth – that “debates” can make a difference in very close elections, just like say, a “primal scream”, or secretly taped recording, or a 5 o’clock shadow and excessive perspiration, or a scandal du jour. Debates are “self made” moments of history and can indeed make a difference. Remember what Napoleon said – “a leader is a dealer in hope”. So it is here… Reagan and a handful of other presidents really understood that premise and effectively used the press to prosecute a message that resonated… it is a thing of beauty to watch…

    Right on Keith. Thanks.

    • Pardon me, but what I write is MY opinion and it’s neither right nor wrong.
      You, too, are entitled to YOUR opinion, but not to determine if my opinion is right or wrong.

          • I am humbled. Well, not really, but thanks for the minor pile on. Still waiting to ascertain what part of my post was in ANY WAY misleading, illogical, off base, unfounded, grounded in 1/2 truth, etc.

            Of course, the “wait” may be in vain, so I have taken preemptive measures to set my expectations accordingly – low. Kind of what candidate Mitt and the President are doing… the irony is not lost…


      • srdem65 – Sorry. No harm mean, really.

        I will respectfully disagree with your line of logic – I have every right to suggest if what you posit / suggest / pontificate is right or wrong or off base or whatever. Um, like you say, it is only my opinion. You are afforded that same privilege. And, you just took it…

        Just FYI, I suggested that (a) you were “perhaps” missing the point of Keith’s message, or (b) just did not like the answer it implied. Either way, your post provided an opportunity to engage for dialog and, well, here we are.

        If there was a hole in my logic, I am, as Ross Perot quipped, all ears…

        Good day.

  7. I recall the JKF-Nixon debate in 1960. JFK was suntanned and looked great on camera. Nixon refused makeup and was sweating under the TV lights. He looked uncomfortable. According to those who listened on the radio Nixon won the debate. For those who watched TV JFK won.

    Obama is beginning to look haggard. Romney always looks presidential..

  8. “With the economy in the tank and disorder growing overseas, many voters are looking for another answer”

    I’ll be curious to see if the moderators will ask the key questions. It’s not as though the format lends itself to answering a question that hasn’t been asked. Much like the questions asked in polls, they can be skewed.

    • @Sadie – Not sure the questions asked are all that important. As we all know, politicians answer ***not*** the question asked, but provide an answer to a question they want asked. When they line up, it looks seamless. Either way, both these men are seasoned politicians… They get it…

      You can bet, and right you would be, that both candidate Romney and President Obama are not worried about “questions”. They are working to have answers to “anything” that will score points by placing them in good light or taking the wind out of the opponents sails.. Or both. At this level, moderators should be and generally are like good officiating or a great server at a fine restaurant – present, but not noticed and certainly not the story…

      For example, let’s just say an Obama loving single mother of 4 illegitimate children on welfare is asking questions, and she asks Romney some lame question in a mean spirited way that only liberals can do. Mitt, needs to man up and answer in a manner that provides the American people a clear view into his heart, brain, and soul. Same approach responding to any barb, miscommunication, or 1/2 truth President Obama lays out there. Simply, Mitt needs to be something / do something he has not pulled off on a consistent basis – AUTHENTICALLY RESONATE with 51% or more of folks casting votes until he reaches 270 electoral votes…

      In the final analysis, the math is simple and the method, mode, and means well understood. And, we should not want it any other way.

    • The polls are skewed so I don’t fret about them so much. I still believe there are more of us than there are of them. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of takers out there looking for a free ride. The Obamaphone “lady” in Ohio wasn’t an anomaly. There are 1 million Ohioans utilizing cellphone services courtesy of the taxpayer, while Obama grabs the credit for the program. Don’t think all of the beneficiaries are buying that the phone came from Obama’s largesse, but gotta admit he is winning over the moron vote.

  9. Romney needs to explain to the american people that the US economy is in the tank in part because of the current administration, but also that we have the economic wherewithal to not only bring us out of this cesspool, but to also lead the world to a better place once again. And that’s all true.

    He also needs to say that he is not going to let people starve in the streets, which is what Obama is going to charge him with.

  10. why is it only Romney must be the one to “DO” things? Obama makes generalities and that is ok? Obama blemes anyone and everyone else BUT himself or his administration and that’s ok? MSM so supportive of Obama, they should be called the Obama Press and that’s ok? Romney had to be vetted but 4 years later and Obama still has not been.

    How about bloggers and all other medias start doing the job MSM won’t, instead of following the same lines? How about people in radio, print, video, and internet start demanding euality of both candidates?
    To top this off, it will probably be rigged just as the last debates were rigged when Obama knew the questions beforehand and was able to prepare in his debates against McCain. Obama cheats,e tie. lies, obfuscates, demurs, slanders, and y’all allow it ALL th

    • I hate to say it but you better pack a lunch if you plan to wait out the ridiculous adoration of the mainstream press. They cannot help themselves. They have killed any semblance of decent reporting or inquisitiveness–the press such a disappointment. Remember when we thought–well, I can read the paper and see what happened? The older ones like Schieffer, Hume, O’Reilly, Lauer, Pelley, Brokaw, Wallace, etc are just trying to stay relevant.. Some Brits are even menacing their position.

  11. IMAGINE!
    They spoke plain ‘english’ in “Debates”. I have been in many “Debates” in bars and its always interesting when one speaks ‘plain/honest english’…

    • Ah yes, the bars in Casa Blanca. Housing spirited debates, fist fights, intrigue, and the occasional knife / pistol brandishing. Politics at its finest…lol…

      I’ll give you this Langley – I’ll take ANY discussion using ANY words that promote understanding and discussion. Simple, plain, complex, obligatory, washed, vetted, obtuse – whatever gets the job done.

      Funny, we have nothing on what was happening back in the 1790’s and early 1800’s… Rhetoric at its best…

  12. I think Romney just needs to be himself and tell the truth. He has an opportunity to speak directly to the American people and tell us where he wants to take the country, without the lapdog media running interference for president Kardashian.

    As far as the complaints about Romney from the voters…just take a look at the people who lined up to see him in Ohio and tell me how unexciting a Romney/Ryan ticket is.

    • @Susan – Re: Romney: Agreed, except he can not tell the entire truth for several reasons – the first of which is the truth does not get you elected at the national level. Agreed on Romney trying to “be himself” – except not all the way. We “saw” and “heard” the real Romney in a secretly recorded video. Ut oh, it did not go over so good with the 47+ % slackers of America. Other than that good!

      Loved the video. Was like snorting a good line. They make a good team.

  13. One thing I remember about the ’08 debates is that McCain refused to look at Obama. As much as I loathe Obama, it was so rude on McCain’s part. I held my nose and voted for him, but I wonder how many others were turned off by his mean, nasty attitude. Never liked him, never will.

    Obama apparently is afraid of Romney ‘zingers’ – why else would he be warning supporters to be prepared for them. Hope Romney has a bag full of one liners…i.e.

    TODAY Show 2009: “My Presidency will be ‘a one term proposition’ if the economy does not turn around in three years.”
    60 Minutes Dec. 2011: “I always believed” fixing the economy was going to take “longer than one term. It was going to take more than a year. It was going to take more than two years. It was going to take more than one term. Probably takes more than one president.”

    On foreign policy, 60 Minutes, Dec. 2011:
    Obama rated himself the 4th best President: “I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.”

    Take off the gloves, Mitt. Nice guys finish last.

    • Girly1 – You are correct, serious here. Good stuff, good recommendations. Romney must go for the knockout. The chances of Obama having an affair or doing something “really stupid” in the next 60 days is minimal. If he could, our President would go on vacation and hide out even more than he is. He can fight, geez, we know that… But his coaches are telling him to go into some kind of NFL Prevent Defense… NO LONG BOMBS…

      It is going to be fun to watch. They may or may not come out slow and touch gloves, but you can BET YOUR LAST DOLLAR that Romney needs to hit the President solidly on the chin and knock him down, and down again, and again… TKO or does not get up…

      The President has a fine line to walk. He is being coached to first and always be PRESIDENTIAL. If Romney goes McCain, he loses. He he plays dirty he loses – getting scolding by a patient sitting Commander and Chief. Romney needs to come out of no where and hit hard. And then PRAY that the President goes rogue and vertical and stays from his talking points.

      Possible yes. Likely, no. Go big or go home. The President is waiting. I expect the equivalent of a “I am the sitting President approach with a couple of middle round rope a dope techniques, and a strong 15th round flailing of factual fists / close.

      Set your DVR! Get out the popcorn.

  14. First of all, there was only one real debate in 1980. That one presidential debate was held on October 28th, very late in the contest. Carter had steadfastly refused to participate in any earlier “debates” if John Anderson was allowed to participate, and only one was held in late September, but only Reagan and Anderson took the stage. Finally, Reagan agreed to Carter’s demand for a “one on one” and one debate between them was held in late October.

    Secondly, even though the Gallup chart published in your post shows a six point swing between pre and post debate, the fact is that the performances of Gallup, and of every other public pollster that year, were dismal — either pre or post debate.

    Gallup was very wide of the margin in both.

    It is true that the one instance of real significant movement during the 1980 race was probably the Presidential debate held on October 28th.

    But the size of the swing was not really reflected in ANY of the public polls, including Gallup’s last survey. And there may be no reason to trust their pre debate numbers as reflective of the true situation on the ground prior to the debate. Their final projected margin was not really close at all.

    The polls conducted by both of the candidates, however did show that shift. Reagan won the race over Carter by 10 points that year. It was a landslide win in that regard. John Anderson, the “independent” in the race, got only 7 points (and no “electoral” votes).

    As for specifics about Gallup, the last Gallup poll, which was conducted post-debate (on 10/30 and 11/1) showed Reagan with only slight, or 3 point lead — 46 to 43 — with a projected 7 point vote for Anderson, and 4% undecided. The margin of that “last second” poll was way off, except for Anderson.

    As noted, Reagan got 51 and Carter got 41, with 7 for Anderson.

    The last Gallup poll conducted “prior to” that debate, was conducted on 10/25 and 10/26, and indeed showed a three point lead for Jimmy Carter.

    Their projection at that point was that Reagan would get 42, Carter 45 and Anderson 9, with 4% undecided. Gallup also conducted a poll on 10/29 and 10/30 (immediately post debate) in which they projected a mere 1 point margin for Reagan — Reagan 44, Carter 43 and Anderson 8, with 4% undecided.

    Therefore, Gallup’s performance that year — as were the projections of virtually all public pollsters in 1980 — were really quite dismal. NBC, which had not even done a post debate at all, grabbed the headlines on Election Day by very early projecting Reagan the winner, based on their “exit” poll.

    Today, there are strong indications that polling may be even less trustworthy that it was back then, primarily as a result of the fact that there is now such a high percentage of people with personal cell phones, and very few “household” phones.

  15. Just saw this on the Morning Jolt:

    ADDENDUM: I hear you, Dina Fraioli, I hear you: “I mean, let’s be honest . . . the media is going to say Obama is the CLEAR winner tomorrow night. . . . I’m just going to watch for the drinking.” My drinking-game rule suggestion: If Romney reacts to an Obama lie by suddenly blurting out, “bull****!”, consume your entire liquor cabinet.

    To read more, visit

    National Review, Inc.

    Are we watching the debate together? What drinking game is on the agenda?