Television is a winner in US presidential election
ANYONE IN these parts who stayed up late last Wednesday week to watch the first Obama v Romney debate was well rewarded for the effort. They may be able to tell their grandchildren that they caught the defining moment of the 2012 US presidential election live, writes NOEL WHELAN
Mitt Romney did not just beat Barack Obama in the October 3rd debate, he trounced him. Obama appeared detached, resentful, dismissive. The great orator failed to communicate a defence of his first term and came across instead as a tired, cosseted president offended that anyone would dare to contest his achievements to date or the merits of his plans.
By comparison, Romney was at ease with himself, with the format and with confronting the president directly. When voters got their first unmediated look at the Republican challenger, he proved to be anything other than a reactionary incompetent, as Democratic advertising and media commentary had sought to characterise him.
Former Clinton campaign manager James Carville caught the consequences on CNN within minutes of the final bell. Obama, he said, seemed like he just didn’t want to be there. Sitting beside Carville, David Gergen, former adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, was equally devastating.
The prompt verdict of the pundits and the initial dialling groups that Obama had lost and lost big was confirmed in the post-debate nationwide polls. In many of them Romney went into the lead for the first time since before the conventions. In key swing states the Republican’s improvement was less dramatic but was significant nonetheless. The first debate proved a circuit-breaker on an Obama surge and it is Romney who now has crucial mid-October momentum – when it matters most.
The debates in this election played big on social media and micro-blogs. About 10.3 million tweets were posted during the 90 minutes of the first Obama-Romney debate. The highest volume of tweets focused on relatively trivial debate points and presentation issues. During and after the debate, tweets about Big Bird dominated.
When it came to Thursday night’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the tweets peaked at a point where the two candidates, both of Irish American heritage, explained to the moderator what malarkey meant.
Joe Biden’s constant smile (opponents on Twitter called it a smirk) and his tendency to interrupt were among the hot topics. Overall Biden held his own, which will come as a relief to the embattled Democrats. Ryan, too, passed his first vice-presidential test.
It is worth noting, however, that all the key events of the campaign are happening in the medium of television. If anything, this and the previous presidential election mark a reassertion of television as the primary theatre of US politics.
Almost 70 million people watched the first Obama v Romney face-off, the overwhelming majority of them on a television set, or at least a television channel. Meanwhile both sides are engaged in record levels of television advertising, much of it localised.