Friday, October 01, 2004

Debate Coverage -- Convention Coverage Redux?

During the Republican National Convention, I wrote that I didn't think paying attention to blogger convention coverage was at all worthwhile, since I already knew what the conservative and liberal bloggers would say. When I woke up this morning, I was thinking that the same was probably true for debate coverage. The liberals will think Kerry won in a blowout, and the conservatives will think the opposite. It turns out, debate coverage is not like convention coverage. At first, I was worried. Every liberal site I visited (from Kos to Crooked Timber) scored it as a win for Kerry. Then, the first few conservative sites I visited scored it as a win for Bush. Hugh Hewitt wrote, "The more I study last night's debate, the more I am convinced that it is a disaster for Kerry," and Keith Burgess-Jackson summed up his review with, "President Bush won reelection tonight. Game over." This was exactly what I was expecting. However, things changed when I delved deeper into the right-wing pit of the blogosphere. There I discovered that Joe Carter, while his analysis made it look like Bush had done better, was relatively noncommittal on the question of who won and lost. Instapundit was even more ambivalent, though he did write that "Insta-Wife thought it was a smashing victory for Bush." I was even more shocked when I discovered that Mickey Kaus, whom no one would call a Kerry fan, wrote an article entitled "Kerry Wins Debate #1". Finally, I came across the Kos post with a long list of conservative bloggers who gave the first debate to Kerry.

What does this say about the debate? Combined with the results from various polls, I think the conservative blogosphere's perceptions make it clear that Kerry was the winner by a good margin. A close Kerry victory would have left most conservative bloggers with the impression that Bush had won (confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance being what they are). The fact that Bush has been much angrier in his attacks of Kerry today makes it look like the Bush team knows who won, too.

Of course, even with an obvious Kerry win, there are still some conservatives who refuse to recognize it. Hewitt is incapable of thinking any liberal has beaten a conservative, in any forum. Burgess-Jackson is just a dolt. They fall in with the 30+ % of the viewers who think that Bush won. That number fits nicely with the percentage of people who call themselves "conservative" (somewhere around 32%), which makes it unsurprising. Cognitive dissonance will force you to think all sorts of stupid things, especially when the evidence contradicts strongly held central beliefs. Fortunately, Burgess-Jackson, Hewitt, and the rest of the hard-line conservatives aren't the people Kerry cares about winning over anyway. Hopefully his clear victory in the debates will win over some of the "swing voters," though.


Clark Goble said...

It's an interesting question. While watching it, while I thought Kerry did quite well, I thought Bush won. And I say that having been very critical of Bush on foreign affairs. So much that I would easily have voted for the Democratic nominee had I more faith in him. Simply because, despite many conservative issues, I think defense is job number one and I don't think Bush has been as critically engaged as he ought. (Not to mention not firing Rumsfeld about a dozen times when he ought to have IMO)

Having said all that though, I certainly understand why everyone called it a Kerry win. In terms of "appearance" Bush was incompetent. No doubt about it. Further he suffered the "Nixon effect" in terms of slouching over the podium, looking uncomfortable and angry and so forth.

I think, though that part of the reason I didn't call it a Kerry win was because I never believed the hype that Kerry was this huge incompetent flip flopper. I'd watched parts of his previous debates and knew he could conduct himself well. Further I knew that a lot of the conservative talking points were taking him wildly out of context at times. Frankly, despite some amazingly incompetent work with the press and public the past month and a half (i.e. that ABC interview earlier in the week) I really thought Kerry would do well. If anything, he underperformed to what I expected. (i.e. there were lots of attacks on Bush that he never made)

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