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October 11, 2004

US: 2nd Presidential Debate

I missed the Edwards-Cheney vice-Presidential debate in the US. I was too caught up with the Australian election. But I understand that 43 million Americans tuned in to watch; down on the 63 million Americans who had tuned in to watch the first Presidential debate.

Impressive. As Larry Sabato says at his Crystal Ball website debates matter.

President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry debated one another last Friday night in a nationally televised encounter town hall style meeting at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

This is a novel and good idea that can, and should be, used in Australia. Mark Latham, the Opposition leader, did a big and successful townhall meeting on his own in Hindmarsh in Adelaide towards the end of the election. The format needs to be broadened to bring in the Prime Minister.

Will we see that in Australia?

The video of the debate is here, as well as the list of the questions from the audience. Here is the transcript. Watchign the video the debate is better than reading the transcript.

The video is well worth watching as it was full of cut and thrust on some good questions from the undecideds on Iraq and domestic issues----foreign policy, fiscal policy, the economy and health care. There is no skirting around these issues here, and the debate almost entered the threshold of a free-form debate. The audience remained hushed at the show. It was a more even affair than the first one.

The standard conservative US spin is that Kerry is an aloof patrician who lacks a common touch, whilst a folksy Bush is better at connecting with regular Americans.

I did not see that with Kerry. Kerry looked and sounded pretty good as he worked from his base in the Congress to roll back the Bush smear of being a tax and spend liberal Senator. Though I did get sick of Kerry's "I have a plan''. Bush also sounded good and persuasive over and above just being folksy selling well-honed, one line hackneyed messages. He performed well.

The debates have revived Kerry's campaign. He has surged in the opinion polls since the previous debate, with the latest ones showing him moving into a slight lead over President Bush. The election race has become very close to call.

I'm not in a position to assess the post debate spin wars that seem to surge through the partisan US media as a normal part of the political campaign. Bush took a huge beating in the liberal press for his performance in the first presidential debate. The spin was all about slouching onto the podium, the eye-glazing, over-repetition of the same hackneyed phrases and the odd facial expressions during the cutaways. I think that he did a lot better than the liberal spin has made out.

A question. How can the Kerry-Edwards ticket surge from being 12 points behind the Bush-Cheney ticket to level pegging in the horserace findings in a matter of a few weeks or so? Are the pollsters partisan as well?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 11, 2004 03:39 AM

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With everyone agreeing that the candidates are virtually neck and neck. Is it not an issue of CRITICAL IMPORTANCE that No Matter WHO Wins FIFTY PERCENT of the population will be dis-satisfied! Is this the America we've all been envisioning? Is this what we call Functional? Why aren't we united in calling for change?

Posted by: John Bruner at October 11, 2004 04:17 AM

Right on that, John. But change in America means a constitutional change and that is like turning a battleship around in a bathtub.

Posted by: Gary at October 11, 2004 07:28 AM

On another matter, what is going around here in the U.S. right now is that Australia has the nearest thing to a real democracy. That is, your preferential method of voting by ranking your preference. Seems like a sound idea.

Posted by: Gary at October 11, 2004 07:32 AM

Preferential voting wouldn't elminate any satisfaction disparity in an election outcome, regardless of whether it's a good system or not (and I think it is). Actually, 50% of the population doesn't come out of an election dissatisfied, because less than 50% votes in the first place. Most of the population doesn't care or is otherwise starting from a position of dissatisfaction in the first place. Even with Australia's preferences system and mandatory voting, I think you'd find a significant level of dissatisfaction in the electorate anyway.

Posted by: Greg at October 11, 2004 10:48 AM

The Senate is more democratic than the House of Representatives.The former is based on preferential voting whilst the House is first past the post on primary vote plus too party preferred preferences.

That means you get a diversity of political voices in the Senate that you do not get in the House. The latter is dominated by the two major political parties and controlled by the executive of whichever party is the government.

The significance of this is that the electorate can vote for their preferred major party in the House(ie.,Howard's LNP or Latham's ALP) and also express their political dissatisfaction in the Senate by voting for someone else.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 11, 2004 11:52 AM

In the only election that matters, the electoral college, Bush is far ahead of Kerry right now.

Posted by: Gary at October 12, 2004 05:45 AM

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