Oct 4, 2012

Obama Loses First Presidential Debate of 2012, But Hold Your Parties or Funerals. Most People Have Already Picked Their Ponies

The first presidential debate of 2012 is in the history book, though it'll probably go into the pages no one reads in the future. The general consensus is that Romney beat Obama by a big margin and that the latter missed a dozen opportunities to deliver. So, is this a game-changer?

Not so fast. Obama disappointed many of his supporters. He showed that he is not a forceful leader by nature, that he becomes professorial and almost "above the fray" when he needs to show strong commitment and when he's expected to clearly demonstrate that he's in the fight to win it. As in many games, playing it safe against an inferior team often leads to defeat.

As I've already said, 2012 looks much like 2004 in the reverse. Kerry won all debates against president Bush but he lost the general election. Romney won last night but not convincingly. He earned a few points among Independents, but I hardly think that this will turn the tide. Let's see how the polls move in the next few days. If the gap, especially in the swing states remains in Obama's favor, this election will be already decided.

What debates like that one do is to energize the base of the candidate that does well, and this, indeed, has an effect. Much of the result in all elections depends on turnout when the margin of popular support is within a few points. Again, if the post-debate polls maintain the 4-5 point difference (in battleground states), there's no path to victory for Romney. I do not see this Obama advantage melting away in the next 4 weeks. However a more energized Romney base may make a big difference in Senate and House races because of turnout. This, however, is still to be decided. We're just entered fourth quarter. If the losing team begins to believe the game is lost, it gives up and the ultimate gap becomes bigger as the "players" (voters) don't show up on election day.

Both candidates tried to send specific messages to their political bases. They know turnout is crucial. I'm not sure if they believe that there are many undecided voters up for grabs; the polls show that there aren't many, and of those it's a big question whether they'll actually show up on November 6th.

The debates measure what exactly? How the two candidates deliver, communicate their message, their temperament and quick wit. Most people who tune in are doing so to crystallize their views, confirm their decision. In my view, very few actually tune it with a totally available mind to be convinced one way or another. We know this. We know that most of those who say the candidate they preferred before the debate but lost is also the candidate they'll end up voting for! I know my horse hobbles horribly, but will I change my pony?....

When I raised this point during my interview with WABC radio, someone observed that politics is not like sports, because it's not the emotional side but other needs that take precedent. Well, yes and no. Choosing positions--philosophical or political--is a long term process. It's also emotional, more so that people are willing to admit. Politics like religion runs in families. The environment plays a role, but it's not during a few autumnal weeks prior to an election. Investing in a team, an idea, an identity is logical and emotional. The longer a person does this the harder to change his/her views. Then it's picking ponies of similar colors. Occasionally some people may confuse a mule for a pony, but in their minds they're picking a pony.

Predictions is a risky business, but, what the heck, I'm making an educated guess that Obama will win at least 320 Electoral Votes, possibly 332, while Romney around 200, a little more or less. I cannot see how Ohio, Florida can go Romney's way. The states he can win is Indiana, for sure, possibly North Carolina, and maybe, at best, one or two smaller states. Not enough to land in or surpass the 270 box.