Blogs > Cliopatria > Previewing the Debate

Sep 30, 2004 6:28 pm

Previewing the Debate

Gil Troy--for my money the most accomplished historian of presidential campaigns currently in the academy--previews tonight's presidential debate on the HNN homepage. I agree with Troy that it's unlikely we'll see any rhetorical body-blows in the event tonight, and that intangible elements will play a key role in deciding the outcome. I was at Williams College during the Kerry-Weld debates of 1996, where Kerry performed very well--but those debates were of a very different type, in that they were far more free-wheeling exchanges than tonight's event promises to be.

The biggest change, to me, in the presidential campaign during the past month has come in the changing nature of the close states. Two months ago, Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina appeared as if they might be in play. Now, Kerry is struggling to maintain a lead in New Jersey, Maryland, and Wisconsin, where, astonishingly, he trails by 14 points in the last state poll. The New Republic recently speculated on the reasons for Kerry's preicipitous decline in Minnesota and Wisconsin (to which Iowa could also be added). I'm not entirely convinced by the argument--these are three states where Bush's social conservativism and aggressive foreign policy should very much hurt him--but as long as this campaign is contested over states like Wisconsin, it's hard to see Kerry winning.

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Robert KC Johnson - 10/1/2004

I agree that polls can be shaky--especially this year, when they've been all over the place. But I think they are useful to discern trends--i.e., if one candidate led in a state by 10 in July and now leads by 2 or 3, in a poll done by the same firm, it would suggest a decline, and vice versa. It seems as if this year pollsters are having a particularly difficult time discerning who the "likely voters" are.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/30/2004

The bingo card is nice, thanks.

I can't take any of the polling seriously anymore. It tells us a great deal about people who answer their land-line home phones (mostly at dinnertime, but also stay-at-home parents and senior citizens) and who are either too bored to get off or activist enough to want their views to count.

Manan Ahmed - 9/30/2004

I have to agree that the Wisconsin/NJ slides bodes ill but there is hope still in my heart. On debates, I recommend John Fallows' Atlantic Monthly piece from a few months ago.

Also, please use this Bingo Card for unmitigated fun.

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