Voters Judge Candidate’s Authenticity in Debates
By Mary Silver On October 15, 2012 @ 7:27 pm In New York City | No Comments
The upcoming presidential debate on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in New York will take questions about foreign and domestic issues from an audience of undecided voters in a town-hall style event. Political debates give voters a chance to decide if they can trust a candidate, according to one expert, and the media environment can skew voter perceptions in many ways.
Dr. Susan Drucker teaches media law and media ethics in the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations in the School of Communication at Hofstra. For the upcoming debate, Dr. Drucker predicted that the questions from the audience will be about security.
She thinks that the most important issues for voters “surround a sense of financial security, social security, including the program Social Security, and national security.”
Dr. Drucker analyzed Vice President Biden’s questions about Congressman Paul Ryan and Gov. Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stance in the vice presidential debate. She said that Biden was trying to convey the idea that the Romney-Ryan call for a more aggressive foreign policy might lead directly to “more boots on the ground” in the Middle East, something most Americans would not want. She said that the questions in the town hall on Tuesday will show how strongly voters are concerned about this.
Most people view the debates through a “prism of predetermined choice,” according to Dr. Drucker. Few people watch them with a genuinely open mind, and few voters remain undecided. Nonetheless, the debates can still add to the enthusiasm of partisans or further depress the motivation of those who might not bother to vote.
People who have not yet chosen a candidate will be deciding which one is more genuine and which one is the better communicator, according to Dr. Drucker.
“Ultimately, this is an issue of connection and trust,” she said.
Dr. Drucker is teaching a media literacy class, and she took a group of students to a public presidential debate viewing party. They watched C-Span, an unadorned and non-partisan source. Her students thought that Obama was holding his own in the first debate, until they began checking Twitter and Facebook and reading critical comments there.
“It really raises issues about perception,” said Dr. Drucker.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Markovits, associate professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Romney’s statements during the first presidential debate claiming that he was being truthful and that President Barack Obama was not could sway less-informed voters.
“It’s disappointing, but he was really smart—and unethical—by saying, ‘I’m the one telling the truth here,’” stated Dr. Markovits in a press release.
“Romney was changing his positions. There were a number of places in which there were more half-truths and outright falsehoods,” said Dr. Markovits in a phone interview. “It does not mean Romney was outright lying.”
For example, when speaking of his budget and tax proposal not adding to the deficit, he cited studies funded by partisan groups which intended to show a certain outcome, but he did not cite the independent groups, Dr. Markovits said.
She said that Obama was not blameless, and that he also cited partisan or slanted studies. “It gets complicated because there are different facts out there. I think that’s one of the things we’ll see wrangling over—who is giving me the real objective truth,” said Dr. Markovits.
She noted that Romney has often been called a “flip-flopper.” He was a moderate governor and espoused conservative policies during the presidential primary campaigns. The positions he took during the Denver debate were unlike those he took during the primary campaign, she said.
She thinks the Democrats will try to criticize Romney for being inconsistent.
Dr. Markovits said the media discussion on Obama and Romney’s presentation and performance during their first debate diverted attention from their policies. She thinks that Obama must project a better demeanor than he did in the first debate, “in order for it to be about the substance.”
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