Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Nonverbals Play a Huge Role in Debates

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The Vice-Presidential Debate occurred last night, with many people going into it believing that the stakes were extremely high. This is unusual because most political analysts agree that VP debates really do not matter. In any case, both campaigns attempted to lower expectations so their respective candidates could shine.

Did either of the candidates win the debate? I heard it on the radio while driving to Kansas and believed that both candidates were pretty evenly matched in their ability to convey the campaign message and key policy issues. However, upon seeing the polls and watching the official replay today, it is obvious that nonverbal communication played a key role in voter’s minds.

The Polls

Most polls show that Paul Ryan won the debate according to voters. Some, like the CNN Poll, show a small margin of 4% between the two, a statistically insignificant win. Others, like an NBC Poll, state that Ryan won 63% to 31%. Why is there such a large difference between the polls?

Most of these polls were conducted immediately after the debate, meaning each media source was rushing to have the first set of results. This could potentially lead to some errors in sampling or reporting. Also, the decision of who to poll makes a huge difference. Some polls called just registered voters who watched the debate, while others called only registered voters who are undecided. This distinction may have had an impact in several of the polls.

The Nonverbals

Most media sources have attributed Biden’s loss to his attitude and gestures on stage. Both candidates came equally prepared to the debate, and both presented high levels of statistics to back up their claims on the economy and other issues. However, Biden’s presentation of the material was seen as erratic, rude, and condescending, while Ryan’s demeanor was seen as more calm and collected.

Americans do not want to see candidates for office acting in the way Biden did. With the invention of television, it is necessary for candidates to sound and look presidential. While both candidates last night sounded presidential, only Ryan looked presidential. The Vice-President could potentially take over the Presidency at any time, meaning voters should feel assured that the candidate can step up and lead at a moment’s notice.

Did It Matter?

Although polls say Ryan won the debate, the real question is whether or not the VP debate will actually make a difference on the race. The Romney campaign argues that Ryan proved his ability to lead during the debate, and this will give their campaign even more momentum stemming from the previous debate. On the other hand, the Obama campaign states that Biden was able to perform well and motivate Democrats, giving his campaign momentum that was stalled after the previous debate.

In reality, the VP debate will probably not mean much. With the next presidential debate Tuesday, most voters are more concerned with how Obama and Romney will perform after Romney’s huge win last week. The VP debate laid the groundwork for next Tuesday’s debate, as both VP candidates made clear attacks against the other side’s presidential candidate. It will be interesting to see how Obama and Romney respond to several of these attacks that will probably be mentioned in the second presidential debate.


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