According to the polls and opinions, Obama defeated Romney in the second debate. Rather than a typical town hall format, it turned into more of a slug-fest, with both candidates interrupting each other and largely ignoring the moderator, Candy Crowley. The only things missing were boxing gloves. In the first debate, Obama’s performance was lackluster. Not in this one. Obama was on his game, and this time he was engaged, fully awake, and ready to punch back. He took charge.From Placebo Effect to being “called out” for lying
During the first debate, Romney made claims that later fact checks disputed. However, because of his performance, many who watched the debate believed him. This is what marketers call the “Placebo Effect” where a significant segment of the audience will believe the claims whether they are true or not if they are delivered in a believable and convincing way. This time President Obama “called him out” on his statements regarding the Libya incident, and the moderator validated the President with a quick “on air” fact check. Ouch! This helped Obama’s punch to land.
Headlines versus body text
In the previous debate, Romney talked in headlines and sound bites while Obama rambled and spoke in technical babble that too many viewers could not easily comprehend. In this debate, Romney’s headlines were often used against him. His comment on “binders full of women” was meant to communicate that he believes in equal opportunity. Instead, it took on life of its own, and was largely mocked on Twitter and other social media sites. During the last 30 seconds of the debate, Obama levied a knock out punch by using Romney’s own 47% headline against him. It fit nicely with Obama’s narrative that Romney is really about protecting the interests of the “well-to-do” rather than the middle class voters in the swing states.
The expectations switched from the first to the second debate. In the first one, people expected Obama would win. Romney beat him convincingly. In the second, people expected Romney would at least match up to his first debate performance. He didn’t. The expectation level for Obama was already lowered because of his poor performance in the first one, and he exceeded expectations in the second one. In the first debate, Obama took the punches, but seemed to be on the defensive. In the second, he threw his own and counter-punched really well. He not only mentioned that Romney’s tax plan does not add up, but he used the opportunity to say that Romney consistently paid a much lower tax rate than average Americans that have much lower incomes. When Romney attacked Obama on the defence of the US Consulate in Libya, Obama countered by condemning Romney for politicizing the death of Americans in the Benghazi attack. This placed a punctuation mark on the criticism of Romney by the mother of a Navy SEAL killed in the attack.
In this debate both candidates had positive, but often times combative, body language delivering their points with force and energy. In the first debate, Obama looked down a lot and did not appear confident. In the second, he looked very confident and self-assured whereas Romney was often defensive and looked nervous – especially when Obama delivered a strong response to Romney’s question about his pension, “I haven’t looked at my pension, it is not as big as yours” or when he reminded Mitt of his 47% comment when he thought nobody was looking. During this exchange in the last 30 seconds, Mitt looked like a deer in headlights and was at a loss for words.
In the first debate, Romney did a more effective job of repositioning Obama – hammering at his record on the economy and painting him as someone that wants to raise taxes and increase the size of Government. In the second, Obama was effective at repositioning Romney as having only one objective – protecting the wealthy at the expense of middle and working class Americans. Obama repeated this theme throughout the debate. When Romney talked about his five-point plan, Obama countered by saying, “Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan, and that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”
Who is likely to win?
The polls still have the race very close. Obama had a bounce and the lead after the Democratic Convention and in the weeks leading up to the first debate. The first debate win gave Romney the edge for a while. After the second, Obama regained a slight edge. There is one more official debate, and the events of the next three weeks may cause the lead to change again. While the economy is improving, it is still sluggish and not where most Americans would like it to be. It is anyone’s race, and the debate box score is one and one. The third debate is likely to break the tie. Stay tuned. As Yogi Berra might say, it’s not over until it is over.
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