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Round one to Clinton. For now

Commentary: Politically Aware

The first 2016 presidential debate

In competitive high school debate, the victor is known quickly. A judge watches the debate and keeps track of the arguments. Speakers score points when reasonable arguments go uncontested and when their arguments win contested issues. The judge adds up the points and announces a winner before the next round or awards ceremony.

Scoring presidential debates is more complicated. There are multiple judges: the media, scientific polls, online surveys, and voters. The judging encompasses more than tracking the arguments. Even when there is a consensus winner on points, they can lose on temperament or in the expectations game. Any of those early decisions can be reversed once social media determines which quotes and clips will be etched into the minds of voters.

Sixty hours after the first presidential debate, Sec. Hillary Clinton appears to have bested Donald Trump, but it’s worth discussing the current metrics and what might be yet to come.

Clinton clearly won on points. An impartial judge might give the argument on trade deals to Trump, and some fact checkers say he was correct on the New York murder rate, but everything else went to Clinton. It wasn’t clear Trump knew current nuclear policy, he looked terrible on race issues and birtherism, and he took demonstrably false positions throughout.

Clinton is also winning the temperament battle and the early video wars. Other than an occasionally odd smile or laugh, Clinton survived the permanent split screen fairly well. Trump’s slouching and sniffling are more likely to live on than anything she did, and video compilations of his interruptions are piling up views. Clinton artfully introduced new Trump victims, including a contractor and a Miss Universe, who are now being interviewed and reinforcing her discussion of his cruelty.

For the moment, Trump appears to have survived the expectations game. Clinton was as good as expected – maybe a bit better. Trump couldn’t keep up, but few thought he would, and he didn’t take a mortal blow. That may be enough to keep him in the hunt. Some online surveys showed Trump winning the debate. They weren’t scientific, but they are reminders that Trump supporters who believe the system is rigged won’t leave him because Clinton did better in a debate (presumably also rigged).

So round one goes to Clinton, but one new fact check that becomes an Internet meme could change that in a heartbeat. For proof, look no further than the first debate between Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. Some early polls declared Gore the winner. After a few days of watching Gore’s split screen sighs on endless loop, it became clear that Bush gained more from the debate.

Clinton should enjoy this victory while she has it, but there are two debates and 40 days to go. The last candidate to win the first debate: Gov. Mitt Romney.



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Posted by on Sep 29, 2016. Filed under Bottom Highlights, Politically Aware. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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