Ignore the polls and look at the substance

Progress 10/12/12

The vice-presidential debate was a far more enjoyable affair then the presidential one a week ago. People actually enjoyed staying up through it, watching two engaging politicians going up against each other.  Perhaps it was the chairs, the low bar set by the previous debate, a great moderator or that VPs can say more; but it was far more watchable.

In addition to being watchable it will be seen (and this is a prediction) as a far more normal presidential debate then the one that preceded it last week. The polls will show that both parties feel that they won it but will not make big waves in the polls.

The Obama slaughter of the previous week created a stunning poll swing of 12 points to Romney. This debate will follow the traditional motto that while they make great theatre – presidential debates don’t really matter.

Yet despite the combative tone, the good put-downs and great zingers, the viewers actually got to see two heavyweight politicians argue against each other beyond soundbites. These debates are the rare times that the parties will go up against each other on stage; with no PMQs these offer the only chance for the leaders of the ideological camps of US politics to question each other.

The rareness of these moments was part of the reason for the outpouring of frustration at Barack Obama last week. While Joe Biden helped, the party will look to see if Obama can speak like a human, confident of his views and positions at the next debate.

Taking stock this VP debate gave us three truly remarkable things. First, the US public were privy to a bigger debate about the red lines on Iran then the Israelis will be in the run-up to their election on 22 January.

Secondly, Biden and Paul Ryan had the most informed public discussion about withdrawal from Afghanistan and what that means perhaps ever heard between two elected politicians.

Third, and perhaps most importantly for a British audience, the excellent late question about the candidate views on faith and abortion gave the world a chance to see the culture war that drives so much passion in the States. There was a lot of foreign policy, yet it is the social issues, particularly those to do with the abortion debate, that are in the mind of swing voters.

The moderation throughout was phenomenal, particularly around the faith and society segment and it allowed both campaigns to share with America what they feel deeply and what they will do with one of the most hotly contested issues in the country.

So despite the small effect it will have in the polls (a draw will be declared) the VP  debate made up for the waffle of the previous week and set a standard of clarity and communication that Romney and Obama will have to meet.

 

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