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Who Won The Third Presidential Debate Between Governor Romney And President Obama?

October 23, 2012

Although this article remains relevant and a bit more comprehensive, readers preferring a shorter format with an updated analysis should please follow this link



Let’s get the fact that Bob Schieffer, the moderator, may have been the biggest winner out of the way first.  In the same way that the President was able to parlay a disastrous first appearance into a benchmark performance that virtually guaranteed better reviews in the next two, some might suggest that Mr. Shieffer benefited from a similar comparison to those who went before him.  Although this may be true to a certain extent, I would also suggest that even without the comparison most reasonably objective viewers would find his performance acceptable.  Am argument could be made that he leaned a bit left, but conservatives generally expect a bit of a handicap any time one of their own is face to face with a member of the liberal media.  There was a nice exchange when Mr. Romney complained that he had not been allowed to respond to some points which had been made and Mr Shieffer suggested that such an outcome was not completely one-sided.  Mr. Romney acknowledged the point with a laugh and allowed the debate to continue.

So which candidate won the debate?  By now most observers should have realized that the polls and opinions expressed immediately following each debate are definitely subject to change.  This means that there is lot’s of spinning and jockeying for position before each side settles on a narrative which begins to solidify the day following the debate.  The following is thus my opinion, without an appeal to either poll numbers or other authorities, and the reader can decide if the views expressed are based on a sound foundation.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that came out of this purported foreign policy debate is the number of minutes devoted to domestic policy.  The events in Benghazi, Libya received a lot less attention than many had predicted which came as a bit of a surprise.  Perhaps Mr. Romney was sensitive to the criticism from some quarters that he had politicized the event, or he may just have been gun shy due to Candy Crawford’s intervention in the previous debate.  By the same token, few would suggest that highlighting the issue would have rebounded to the President’s benefit.

Essentially, each candidate did a credible job in presenting a narrative which ensured the continued support of their respective base.  As a converted Romney supporter, I would pick Mr. Romney as the winner, but I understand that those who support the President would argue otherwise.  From my point of view, the President continued to present a self-serving narrative filled with falsehoods and dangerously naive, at best, solutions which have no chance of addressing the problems.  Mr. Romney asked and answered the question of whether the United States is better off now than four years ago with a resounding “NO”, a view with which i happen to agree and would suggest is objectively true, and yet Mr. Obama claimed otherwise.  If for no other reason, this inability to face facts would seem to require one send the President packing.

Mr. Romney continued to make points that play well with conservatives, but seems to be just a bit out of touch with the way liberals think.  A case in point is a quote that is bound to get a lot of play when in response to the President’s accusation that:

“Every time you’ve offered an opinion you’ve been wrong.” The Republican coolly responded, “Attacking me is not an agenda” for dealing with a dangerous world.

The referenced quote comes from article which provides a lot more in the way of a blow by blow account of the debate, but my focus here is a bit different in that I would suggest that what Mr. Romney fails to understand is that most liberals would disagree with his point.  One need only look at the historical record of the way liberals do business to find that attacking the other side is, in fact,  “an agenda”, as is blaming others for their own failures.  It’s the only thing that works, as liberal policies certainly don’t, and thus a response which is objectively a real “zinger”  might not have the impact some might expect.  If this election was all about competence, record, and integrity the results would have long-sense been preordained, but the truth of the matter is that for some voters none of those qualities are germane.  What all this means is that the winner of the debate will be determined on November 6, 2012, and not before.

Having said that the winner will be determined on November sixth, I now seemingly contradict myself by claiming that Mr. Romney was the victor in tonight’s debate.  It seems to me that the only voters left to convince are those who are deciding whether or not to vote for Mr. Romney.  If one assumes that those few voters who remain undecided are paying attention than i would suggest that Mr. Romney has provided a number of reasons for deserving their vote.

The reason I see hope for Mr. Romney, and suggest he won this debate, is that it would seem reasonable to assume that those few remaining undecided voters are more likely to perceive themselves as making decisions based on logic rather than emotion.  This would seem to be a point in Mr. Romney’s favor as his entire campaign strategy has been to appeal to this voter.  After all, who in their right mind would retain a junior executive, at best,  in a position for which he is obviously unqualified, particularly when  an experienced Senior Executive who has a plan of action and  a record of success is available?  Your company is about to go under, due in no small part to the actions of this junior executive  who over the course of the last four years has shown an inability to work with others, proved his incompetence  by implementing programs which have yet to be successful, and refuses to take responsibility by constantly blaming others.  Is this the man for the job?  You probably only gave him four years in the first place because he happened to be your brother-in-law, but now the time has come to thank him for his service, and ease him out as gently as possible before it becomes too late.

Regardless of what some may say, I found Mr. Romney’s demeanor appropriate.  He knows his facts.  He has a plan.  He has experience.  He has his emotions under control.  The only problem is that he still seems to feel that truth, integrity, and competence are a winning combination.  In closing,  let’s take another look at Mr. Romney’s statement suggesting that attacking him is not an agenda.  According to this article in NPQ:

Over generations of testing, the direct marketing industry has identified seven emotional triggers that are particularly good at generating a response. I’ve told you these before: anger, fear, greed, guilt, flattery, exclusivity, and salvation.

Which candidate, and political party, is most effectively appealing to the emotions described above?

Here are the research stats on advertising effectiveness, reported on neurosciencemarketing.comon July 27, 2009: Rational content is 16 percent effective. Mixed content is 26 percent effective. And emotional content is 31 percent effective. The authors “attribute this split to our brain’s ability to process emotional input without cognitive processing . . . as well as our brain’s more powerful recording of emotional stimuli.”

Notice that messages containing emotional content are almost twice as effective as those evidencing rational content.  Further, and perhaps most devastating is the claim made by  the author of the referenced article which I present below:

Emotional messaging works. And rational messaging actually hurts. Hurts. That board member who claims he creates a rationale? Don’t let him solicit!

Mr. Romney’s problem, if he has one, is that he may be the competent board member, but not the best solicitor.

Still, all in all, and considering the type of voter still left undecided, I’m going to double down on Mr Romney and suggest that his was the  most effective presentation in tonight’s debate..

Feel free to provide your opinion.

  1. Stanford permalink

    You do not sound like “a converted Romney supporter”. You sound like a real fanatic. Just read your 7th paragraph.

    • Thanks for commenting, but I’m not sure I see the relevance. At one time I shared many of the same prejudices and biases to which so many others seem to have fallen prey. It was a matter of accepting a narrative without investigating the basis on which that narrative depended.

  2. I enjoyed this commentary. I had some similar observations, which I blogged about today. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis.

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