American Election: The Psychology Behind the Debates

Throughout the history of American Presidential campaigns there have been turning points that have irrevocably impacted the results. Many have said that the first Presidential debate between Romney and Obama signifies one of these moments.

Before the event Obama was leading the polls in the majority of swing states, just like Al Gore had this time twelve years ago. However, Al Gore lost an 8-point lead after his mediocre performance against Bush in the 2000 debate. This reversal in polls seems to be a trend that has occurred in the days following Obama’s performance. The Gallup daily tracking shows the percentage of voters who support each candidate. Obama’s support dropped by 5% in under 48 hours of the debate.

Unfortunately Obama was unable to give the voting public what they wanted and expected: political theatre. Even after Romney’s countless mistakes and careless comments of the previous week, he was able to come out top in the opinion polls. Although Obama had found holes in Romney’s pronouncements, these were lost beneath Romney’s bravado.

It is this superficial view of the campaign that is so different to Britain. For years we have not had a prospective Prime Minister with an abundance of charisma but in America this is primary. They want a President who encompasses the American ideal: strong, confident and assertive. Romney may have confused policies but like Republican’s before him, he played the game well.

Obama seems to have forgotten how crucial appearances during a campaign really are. This inability to play the lead role in the debates has hindered his progression. He walked onto the stage with his broad smile and confidence but worryingly the cracks began to show as talks began. He showed continual frustration with Romney’s sentiments and looked weary after just 30 minutes of debate.

It was Al Gore’s incapability to keep calm against Bush that ultimately lost him the Presidency. Such an occurrence seems ridiculous as the public need to listen to policy, instead of just analyzing personality. There were numerous times that Romney back-tracked on his original policies, seemingly skimming over broad areas of crucial discussion.

When taxes were raised Romney, who had been claiming a major tax cut for over a year, stated that the rich would not end up paying less because he would close known loopholes. When Obama tried to extract details of this policy, Romney was unable to give any straight answers in how this would be implemented. Surely this is a critical key in the running of America and not being able to explain plans is a potential concern.

Bizarrely, it was not this that the majority of papers reported on after the event, but simply that Obama looked weak in comparison to Romney’s perfected presentation. It is this reluctance to look beneath the surface that causes policies not to be heard and a candidate’s possible incompetence to be masked.

The next two debates will be of supreme importance. It will be very interesting to see if Obama will step up and give America the performance of his career and whether Romney will have to outline his policies more clearly to keep the public on side. At this point the best way for either candidate to get ahead is to leave no stone unturned and find every fault in their opponents agendas.

The former economist for the Obama administration, Jared Bernstein, stated, “You have to call these guys out if they’re going to try to pretend to be people that they’re not”.

This is a vital element in these debates. No longer should they hide behind superficiality, the core of their campaigns need to be realized otherwise the future of America may not be what the public expect.

Francesca Newton


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