Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - Volume 3, Number 13

© Copyright 2012, The Ultrapolis Project.  All Rights Reserved.

2nd Presidential Debate Forecast to Be Even

Town Hall Format to Limit Chance of Fireworks, Expect Slight Obama Edge


We haven’t been getting many comments lately, certainly not as we did during the conventions. Yet, we noted by our traffic stats that our most-read brief since our coverage of the conventions was the forecast for the vice-presidential debate.  We hear you loud and clear: Another debate forecast it is, even though as we have said before, forecasts on individual human actions at a specific time are the least reliable. But, since we got that one as right as is possible to get (no clear winner), we aim to repeat that here.


True, among independents, the Pew polls going into today’s debate favor Governor Mitt Romney; then again, they favored President Barack Obama going into the first debate.  Our assessment at the time (though we did not publish one) was that Romney would do better than expected; and Obama’s lackluster speech at the Democratic National Convention was already giving us reason to doubt his performance. What took us by surprise was the effect of the first debate.  (We are not alone in that – Brit Hume at Fox News said the same thing, and the folks at PBS initially also said that Romney and Obama were pretty close, both being very informative and civilized with their answers, with Romney doing better at responding).  What we (and others) totally missed was what we believe to have been the huge effect of social media in shaping perception, and then influencing votes (yes, we know…duh!).  If you look at the way folks talk in social media, even the slowest recognize that to get ‘hits’ they need to say something dramatic.  So, a slight edge becomes a clear win, becomes a rout, becomes a catastrophe.  It’s all the rage now, national discourse by the 140-character melodrama contests among the young.  Years from now, historians will read the debate transcripts, and one will write a book saying “contrary to popular belief, the first debate was not a rout…”


So, about tonight:  Despite the polls (and UWF&R readers) predicting another Romney win, we expect Obama (unless he is actually suffering from emotional problems) to: 1) have dealt with his internal demons we first noted at the Democratic convention (September 5-8 UWF&R), and regain his footing, uncertain since then; 2) flourish in the town hall environment and adequately handle the citizen questions (Romney, too, will do fine with this); and 3) partially (but not totally) set apart his professorial demeanor.  This will be enough to steady his performance to match Romney’s, given the public’s low expectations.  One or the other may still be perceived to gain a slight upper hand, but not like the last time.  However, considering the social media factor, this means that if before we thought the gap was small, this time it will be tiny – with any difference magnified. If the slight advantage appears early, it will greatly magnify the advantage, even if the advantage disappears later.  If the insta-posters have to wait more than a half hour to get a sense of a winner, then the effect will be diminished.  If I were in the debate, I would make sure to get my best points in early, knowing they will matter much more to the 11% percent ‘twittering’ and instant-chatting than anything said later while they are busy keying; knowing that the mainstream media, trying very hard to be “with it” and “get it” with the new media, will heavily and in real-time report that reaction before it gets to what the other 89% have to say; and, knowing the other 89% will be influenced by those first reports.


In short, another rough tie, but with a better than even chance that more perceive a win for Obama than do for Romney. 




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