Political debates highlight disputed opinions between politicians. These opinions can range in topic from social issues, to economics, to foreign policy. Debates are routinely used by candidates to try and sway the undecided voters to cast their ballet for them. Undecided voters typically avoid paying attention to politics and are therefore uninformed and susceptible to the media’s influence. In close elections this makes the debates all that more important.
Debates haven’t changed much through the decades; the only difference I would say is the way we judge the winner—and it has little to do with policy. In the eyes of the corporate media, the winner isn’t the man who best articulates his views, just as the loser isn’t the guy who’s proven wrong (no one is ever proven wrong!).
During the first presidential debate a couple weeks ago, Mitt Romney brought his “A game” by doing what every good businessman does: he told everyone what they wanted to hear. Romney changed his views, even outright lied at times in order to appeal to a more broad audience, a tactic Obama didn’t call him out on till the day after.
If you watched mainstream media immediately after the debate, Romney didn’t win because he lied or changed positions more than actors in a porn movie, he won simply by coming out strong and aggressive whereas President Obama was laid back and calm. Through the eyes of the media, it didn’t seem to matter what came out of their mouths.
By instantly declaring Romney the winner and ignoring the untruths that he spewed, the news media made up the minds of the undecided voters instead of letting the people decide for themselves; the result was a huge boost in the polls for Romney. I’ll admit Obama didn’t help himself, but when your opponent changes face as much as he did, I may have sat there dumbfounded myself.
Fast forward a little to last week’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The roles were reversed as Biden was the candidate who came out aggressive, confident and with a smile. Was Joe declared the winner just like Romney the week before? Depends who you ask, MSNBC said yes, Fox News said no and everyone in between couldn’t decide. With the opinion of the winner split down the middle, the poll numbers didn’t move.
I remember last year during the Canadian general election, the corporate Canadian media claimed before the debate began that all Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to do to win was stay on message (as if that’s hard to do). Sure enough he did and the press immediately declared him the victor.
However, the boost in the polls didn’t come Harper’s way; instead it went to Jack Layton especially in the province of Quebec thanks to his mixture of policies and humor. It forced the media to change its “ruling” days later. Whether this happened because the Canadian people saw through the bullshit of the press is debatable itself. After all, Quebecers were the ones who fell in love with Layton, possibly thanks to the French media who probably described the debate differently.
As I said, undecided voters aren’t informed. If they were, chances are they’d have chosen a side by now. Unfortunately with the partisan 24/7 news stations and the slightly more free mainstream media dictating to us what they think, it’s virtually impossible to come to a self-determining conclusion with the right information.
The age of information didn’t just bring us the internet, smartphones and 24-hour news, it also brought with it a new age of corporate propaganda and partisan reporting. The only advice I can give to the independent voter is to do your own research and determine for yourself who the best candidate is. This day and age we shouldn’t need farcical debates to define a winner.