Thursday, October 4, 2012

Historically, Presidential Debates Do Not Impact Vote Choice...But Then Again Obama is the Country's First Black President

In my earlier post on how the "rope-a-dope" analogy is not an apt description for Obama's strategy in last night's defeat by Mitt Romney, I referenced this piece on how presidential debates have historically had little to no impact on how individual's choose to vote on election day.

There are some sections in the Bloomberg piece that deserve a bit more exploration:
"Where you started the debate season is pretty much where you end the debate season," said Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University and co-author of the book "The Timeline of Presidential Elections."  
No candidate who was leading in the polls six weeks before the election has lost the popular vote since Thomas Dewey in 1948, according to Wlezien and Robert Erikson, a political science professor at Columbia University. They studied polling data going back to 1952 and computed a running average "poll of polls" for each presidential election...  
Wlezien and Erikson found only one campaign with a big movement in opinion polls from the start to finish of the debate series - and then it was the candidate widely judged to have lost the debates who gained in the polls...  
What influence debates have had on public opinion historically has stemmed from matters of style rather than substance. A glance at a watch or a distant reaction to an emotionally charged question have been more consequential than clashes over war, taxes or economic policy.  
A 2008 Gallup review of polling data surrounding presidential debates concluded the events are "rarely game- changers" yet may have made a difference in 1960 and 2000, both among the closest presidential contests in U.S. history.
Barack Obama is the country's first black president. As such, he is playing a game which is not designed for him. Given that these models of how debates impact voters have been based on white presidents, are they a good fit for assessing the relationship between Obama's debate performance and the vote choice on election day?

Despite what right-wing pundits would have you believe--that being black in America is a net advantage, or that the American people will have "pity" on Obama and give him a do over because of his skin color--serious people suggest that racism cost Obama about 5 percentage points in 2008's election.

Moreover, the politics of white racial resentment and overt racism have been repeatedly used by conservatives to subvert support for the country's first black president, and were the driving force between the white political insurgency known as the Tea Party.

Optics matter: there is a symbolic power to Obama as the country's first African-American Chief Executive that many white folks, especially on the Right, are repulsed by; the stated and unstated burdens of blackness, what Du Bois famously summed up with the question "how does it feel to be a problem?", are the background radiation which colors how many in the public perceive the President. He can't get angry. He can't show emotion. He can't talk about race. And he most certainly cannot remind anyone that he is black.

My instincts would suggest that cultural politics, the white racial frame, and our country's long history of white racism, must in some way be impacting how members of the public assess his performance in the debates. However compelling, instincts are not a substitute for empirical rigor.

Teach me something if you would. 

I do qualitative research. I can read the stats and explain it within reason, but don't ask me to run a simultaneous equation or do the matrix algebra for a regression by hand.

For those of you who are quantitatively trained social scientists, how would you go about working through the puzzle of comparing Obama's performance, and the public's perceptions of it, with that of his predecessors?

For the debates, I would imagine that modifying existing models of the relationship between debate performance and vote choice by simply inserting "dummy" variable where "0" is used for white presidents, and "1" is used for Obama, would be wholly insufficient.

Would you have to construct an index variable of some type that collapses together measures of white racial resentment from other surveys, and then include that into the model for Obama? If so, how would you maintain internal consistency in the model when such information would not be relevant in the same way for Obama's white predecessors?

Once the election occurs, and subsequently there is a full set of data available, i.e. we know who won and have metrics for the debates, would it be a matter of comparing like cases of debate performance (and other standard measures such as likability, the economy, approval polls) from the past that most closely resemble Obama's in the present? In essence, looking for differences in vote choice as the dependent variable?

Quantitative analysis is a great tool to have in the proverbial tool box. I just worry about how well a formal model would do in this case, where it would have to pick up all of the noise in the social ether that is directly tied to how racial animus, stereotypes, and the white racial frame impact the public's perceptions of the country's first black president and his performance.


Anonymous said...

Obama's fine. We didn't have televised debates until JFK ran. It's difficult to draw conclusions when it's only been on tv for 14 election seasons. Over the course of 40 years the country has evolved in so many ways. Racism isn't as bad. The computers we use today makes what was being used in the 80s look primitive. We've got the Internet.

We've never had a candidate lie the way that Romney did during the time on tv. We can fact check any statement made by a candidate. Romney succeeded in making a fool of himself. He just doesn't know it yet. This ain't the 80s. Obama's campaign is superior to Romney's in every way. Romney's still a scrub. One good night isn't going to change that. Personally, I wouldn't give anyone a win for lying. It's like playing basketball without dribbling. It's not a legitimate win.

The thing with the presidency is that the better campaigner always wins. Debates are meaningless unless something important happens(candidate pukes and/or pisses self).


CNu said...

lol@the "analizing"...,

Razor said...

With all due respect CD, I wouldn't wring my hands over these debates. Blockhead Mitt has already publicly pooped on himself so many times that nothing is actually required of Obama in the debates except be a polite negro who can take a verbal licking and keep on ticking. Besides, Obama has already out-Republicaned any real threat from the Rethuglican party.

The debate and the ones to follow are a rigged charade. This one was more comical (and revealing in it's ridiculousness) in that the ringmaster himself, an over-the-hill, obviously near dementia, caricature of a himself, moderated the circus act. Cheap and rank political vaudeville.

SabrinaBee said...

I just don't understand what happened.

SabrinaBee said...

Razor, the man has to at least show up,no matter how bad Mitt is.

Alliyah Gallows said...

It's just don't lose a debate to the guy who makes George W. Bush sound like Shakespeare.

It's just not supposed to happen.

Black Sage said...

I’m neither a quantitative nor a qualitative researcher. However, considering the vast amount of variables that could legitimately be considered an element here is mind boggling, i.e., is Obama a Muslim, is Obama truly a US citizen and so forth. Even further, the variable of race alone would compel researchers to create a whole subset of contending categories.

Race consciousness in such a racist empire could never be fully removed from the mental faculty of a certain groupuscule of people to provide you with the raw and untainted answers that you seek through post research analysis. Therefore, single most prominent and lurking in the rear dependant variable of race not only overwhelms, but obscures all other things being considered.

Moreover, Obama’s White predecessors and successors never had to and never will deal with the many racial related challenges he has to struggle with each and every day simply because of his skin tone. Therefore, I believe that researchers will be hard pressed to gather meaningful data and measurement from such a research regarding the proposed question here.

Only within a truly utopian society will you be able to unearth the aggregate truth regarding Obama’s debate performance and his overall tenure as president. Therefore, I highly suggest that you refrain from holding your breath for this blazing gunboat, war mongering eagle empire to morph into a perfect, nonracist society any time soon, if at all.

Brotha to Brotha said...


I had a similar discussion with a colleague, specifically, on the question of whether or not the "advantage of incumbency" typically enjoyed by sitting presidents also extends to Obama.

I believe that the advantage the incumbent usually enjoys is the deference and respect that comes with the office itself. This is what compelled democrats to speak respectfully to and about former President G.W. Bush, even while he was performing dismally in office, always had poor command of facts and the English language, and was viewed as a war criminal by much of the civilized world by the 2004 election.

I believe the advantage of Obama's incumbency my be overstated, due in large part to his race. There has been no such deference towards President Obama, from the get go. Start with an open pledge from Sen. Repub. Leader Mitch McConnell to "do everything in his power to make sure he is a one term president", the day after his inauguration. Consider House Rep. Joe Wilson's infamous "You Lie!!" charge leveled against him from the house floor DURING A STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS. Not to mention the relentless Birtherism and Tea Party nonsense of whether or not the President is a citizen qualified to hold office, whether he is an "affirmative action president," "food stamp president," Eastwoodesque chairs hanging from trees and similar nonsense.

I think it would be poor strategy for the dems to simply try to run out the clock with a lead on Romney, owing to the historical advantage of incumbency. Obama should stay on the attack, vigilantly, if he wants to win. The "advantage of incumbency" simply may not apply to Obama.

ABW said...

Brotha, have to agree with you right there. Well said!

Invisible Man said...

Interesting historical, note, yo.
They did a survey right after the Kennedy/Nixon debate. Overwhelmingly those who listened on the radio, called it for Nxion. Those who watched it overwhelmingly called it for Kennedy. And more people watched over listening to it. And what did Nixon in was that he wouldn't allow the station to apply make up to his face before hand, While Kennedy did, so Nixon's five O'clock shadow and sweaty face made him look old and mean

Funny, ChaunceyVeg. said that Pres. Obama is playing a game not designed for him. Which is true, But that's OUR history, the only thing different about this President is that when he leaves the game even after another four years, he will leave the game exactly as he found it, instead of transforming it which is what Black folks generally have done.

_ said...

Romney is a 2012 version of george wallace (former Alabama Gov)

remember in the 70s george wallace claimed to be a born again christian and therefore had changed his views of segregation and civil rights.. mitt did that during the debate, lol... Anyone with any sense knows that mitt is just trying to survive politically, just like george wallace.

_ said...

Firing people is so engrained in Romney's psyche he couldnt resist mentioning how he would fire Big Bird. I truely believe Romney's gets a rush out of firing people,he seems to really enjoy it.

_ said...

If anyone needs firing its the muppets on Wallstreet, not the muppets on Sesame Street,,, lolz

Invisible Man said...

yea said you'd better retract that comment, because Obama instead of jailing hired the muppets and turned over our economy to them. Anton Chekhov couldn't have come up with such tragi-comedy! But you know Brother Potus is beyond reproach

Black Sage said...

You and quite a few others have placed me in a state of befuddlement. Obama has done the same thing after being elected, just like his predecessors. That is to make grande promises while campaigning, i.e., overhauling Washington and hopelessly fall into a state unconsciousness after receiving the keys to the White House. It’s the same tired, worn, recycled politics of old.

Our last truly elected president was John F. Kennedy. Clandestine forces had him murdered because he stood up for the people of this country and against any type of back channeling, secret/cabal style of government that continually usurps the authority of the people. Therefore, don’t be in such a rush to place all of this country’s ills at the feet of Obama, even though I’m not a fan of him either.

CNu said...

Since we all know and are in agreement about the simultaneously "titular" and utterly immoral reality of the office of the narrator-in-chief, what EXACTLY is the value proposition - the return on black moral capital investment - in having a black face in the white house?

Invisible Man said...

Yo, Sage;

I got no quarrel with your point, but President Obama did something, and had something, no other President ever had/did. Kennedy comes close, but not that close.

Our President, Obama got a large percent of Americans to actually BELIEVE that he was a change agent and change was his ultimate priority.

And he never even attempted it.

Secondly,( and more importunely) he was elected by a GRASS ROOTS MOVEMENT, that included young people in America and people through out the world, ready to be activated to help him CHANGE the world. Please let this comment sit for a while. Think about the ramifications. And what did he do with this MOVEMENT???? He immediately slammed the door on it and brought in the same old cabal, the bankers, insurance executives, military , etc. This is what what people refuse to talk about.

So I say to you my brotha, This was the ultimate betrayal and it says something about us, that no one talks about it.


nomad said...

I'm waiting for Sage to respond before I comment. But while I'm waiting I was wondering: Was it betrayal or deception? Is there a difference?

nomad said...

So I'm not sure it was betrayal in the sense that he went back on his word. A lot of his liberalness was an illusion. He led may to believe he was an agent of change; and that was deliberately misleading. In retrospect he did telegraph his trajectory during his 2008 campaign. He wasn't going to end the war on terror, he was going to shift the emphasis to Afghanistan. And he intended to put the social safety net on the chopping block.

"'s Obama on on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos on May 13, 2007, well before Iowa. Which I missed, because I was too busy beating up on Republicans to pay attention to the good guys (hollow laughter):

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also said that with Social Security, everything should be on the table. OBAMA: Yes. STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising the retirement age? OBAMA: Everything should be on the table. STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising payroll taxes? OBAMA: Everything should be on the table.

So Obama's been willing to gut Social Security for some time."

True, the public mandate on healthcare was a blatant betrayal, but regarding the callous way he has pursued the war in Afghanstan and brutal assassinations of Ghadaffi and Bin Laden, he never promised that he wouldn't become the Drone Ranger. He betrayed us. But mostly he mislead us.