Scoring the Second Presidential Debate (10/7)
The questions covered four policy areas, although the economic questions took up most of the first 2/3 of the debate. A quick break down:
- Economy/rescue package (8 questions)
- Environment (2 questions)
- Health care (2 questions)
- Foreign policy (7 questions)
- Rumsfeldian (1 — What don’t you know and how will you learn it?)
- Two of the eleven audience questions were prefaced with some kind of personal narrative.
Some interesting facts from the debate:
- Unlike the first debate, both candidates engaged (looked at/spoke to) their opponents roughly an equal number of times.
- Neither candidate said “maverick.”
- Sen. McCain mentioned tax hikes/breaks twice as often as Sen. Obama (20 times to 11).
- Sen. McCain said “my friends” at least seventeen times during the debate (although it felt like he said it a lot more).
- Sen. McCain said “Main Street” once while Sen. Obama said “Wall Street” twice.
- Sen. McCain made twice as many direct criticisms of Sen. Obama than Sen. Obama made of him.
- Sen. Obama avoided the question more frequently than Sen. McCain did (5 times to 3).
- Sen. Obama referenced President Bush/the last eight years much more frequently than Sen. McCain (8 times to 2).
- Sen. Obama said “change” eight times compared to once for Sen. McCain.
- Sen. Obama said “9/11” twice. Sen. McCain did not say it at all.
- Sen. Obama mentioned terrorist/terrorism more than twice as often as Sen. McCain (10 times to 4).
- Sen. Obama said “middle class” six times. Sen. McCain said it once.
- Tom Browkaw cared far too much about the rules of the debate and asked far too many of his own questions (nine of his own versus eleven from the “audience”).
You can find a breakdown of the complete transcripts (with wordles) here.
The big question, though, is who won? Here are our evaluations:
“I think that for my personal taste that McCain won because of the way he handled the questions and I feel that he answered the questions more completely than Obama.”
“Barack Obama definitey won the debate tonight. For one, he was actually aggressive in this debate, especially with that “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” punch at McCain. Two, Obama had a clear vision on the details of his healthcare plan, for example, mandatory healthcare for children, keeping your same doctor, and condemning insurance providers that continuously extort money from clients. Thirdly, he knew what his options were regarding Pakistan and Iran and the dire need to catch Osama Bin Laden, which the Bush administration has failed to do completely!”
“Honestly, I thought both candidates did poorly during this debate. I had been expecting to be blown away by McCain, since the Town Hall meeting is his signature move, but I felt both candidates were pretty dull. Even the questions were less than thrilling. Obama sounded stronger on national defense than he usually does, and McCain just lobbed the same old insults towards Obama (higher taxes, doesn’t support the troops, etc.). I’m going to give the win to Obama, mostly because I disliked McCain’s condescending tone towards Obama, and I didn’t think he brought anything new to the table, just the same old facts about how and Obama presidency would lead to higher taxes and increased threats of national security. McCain did have a great closing statement (though it didn’t answer the question).”
“I am going to call this debate a wash. Obama’s indirect answers and unwillingness to abide by the format rules while McCain appeared to have more on point responses and at least made overtures to the event structure lead me to, on first blush, give the debate to the Arizona senator. On the flip side of the same token, McCain looked uncomfortable. He laughed at his own jokes and dropped a doozy of a line referencing his thinning hair. Expectations were higher for McCain because of his perceived strength in the town hall format. Obama has been billed by his own campaign as a pensive thinker, not a pithy debater. Those expectations allowed the junior senator from Illinois to answer more cautiously. Obama also name dropped more, especially on the foreign policy questions, which allowed him to cover for his lack of substance.”
“Although I was honestly not too impressed by either candidate during last nights debates, if I were to have to choose a winner i would say Obama. Although McCain’s strong point should have been foreign affairs, it seemed that Obama gave more straightforward answers to those questions.”
“I thought that Obama won a little more definitively this time. While he didn’t have any specific moments like the last debate in which he clearly stood up to John McCain, he did enough to hold serve. The pundits may argue McCain really needed to turn around the narrative of the campaign, but doing it in a debate wouldn’t necessarily change many minds or bring out new voters especially given the recent polls. Finally, I thought that the format of the debate wasn’t very good. Asking a future commander in chief for his doctrine on the use of force within 60 seconds is analogous to asking a physicist to explain the origins of the universe in the same span.”
* The little girl in the photo is Prof. Keith Smith’s daughter, Kate. She loves being involved.