Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Who "Wins" Wednesday's Debate?

The pundits and the public will, of course, reach some kind of consensus over whether Obama or Romney wins tomorrow night's prez debate.  But why wait?  The latest Quinnipiac poll has folks predicting an Obama debate victory -- by about a 2-to-1 margin.

Here's the lede:
An 18 point lead among women puts President Barack Obama ahead of Gov. Mitt Romney 49 - 45 percent among likely voters nationwide, and voters expect 54 - 28 percent that the president will win the debates, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. 

That pretty much says it all.

Except, of course, it's probably wrong.

Usually the challenger "wins" the first presidential debate with an incumbent (think John Kerry against George W. Bush not so very long ago).  Why?  Because the incumbent is on the same stage, looks presidential, and assuming no goof comes off ahead merely by not seeming as kooky as some people thought.

That's Romney's mission.  Not to look kooky or scary, to seem, well, as Ronald Reagan did so well in 1980 -- to seem reasonable.

Can people predict the winner?  Are they right?


In part, the expectation comes from people choosing their preferred candidate to win.  It's called wishful thinking.  There's a long body of social science research to back it up.  But that doesn't explain the 2-to-1 margin, much greater than Obama's poll advantage.  No, I think this is a function too of Romney's faltering campaign, of stumbling from gaffe to gaffe (47 percent), from a smooth Democratic convention compared to Clint Eastwood mumbling at an empty chair.

So I suspect the public has it wrong.  Romney will "win" Wednesday night -- for what little that's actually worth -- but unless Obama makes a huge blunder it won't really matter in the numbers.  Yes, they'll tighten a bit in Romney's favor, but the math for him, in a state-by-state comparison, needs to significantly improve for him to win the electoral count.

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