On September 8 I wrote a post observing a noticeable difference in Australian politics of late: that voters were sick and tired of negative politics, are were looking for positives, and this showed in recent election results. I put the question to the American test, noting that Obama was running a far more positive campaign than McCain, asking “Have voters in Western democracies had enough of the politics of old?”
The ultimate judge of that will be the November US Presidential election, but along the way, something interesting is happening.
After watching the first US Presidential debate live (I still find it amazing that these are being showed live here…on more than one channel…although naturally I streamed it) I called the debate for McCain by a nose on the grounds that he, in my opinion, delivered key points more decisively, and that after the debate I could recall more of McCain’s key points than Obama’s. Obama spoke less in sound bites, and spoke in more depth about the issues, and he presented a more positive take on what he’d do, vs McCain’s preference towards negatives. I recall someone on FriendFeed saying that Obama came across like a Professor, and that Americans don’t vote for intellectuals.
Everything I’ve learnt from years in politics, both as a two (and a bit) times staffer, a one time campaign manager, and serving numerous other times on campaign committees, writing propaganda and the occasional speech, along with some reasonable experience in marketing (including a degree in the subject) told me that McCain won that debate.
I was wrong. Every poll showed that Obama won. It was a triumph of substance over style, of a positive message trumping a more negative one.
Today we had the VP debate. Anything other than Sarah Palin breaking down and blubbering Alaska Alaksa for an hour was going to be a positive for a candidate who a growing chorus of pundits on both sides of politics have labeled unfit for the role. She did good. In fact, in terms of establishing herself as not being completely clueless it was a good win.
Some are arguing that Palin won the debate. The right is arguing that she connected with voters, that her key messages struck home, and that her “folksy” appeal defined her as someone people could connect with, even if her grasp of the English language is at times lacking.
Biden on the other hand came over as solid, articulate, and perhaps at times too academic. His delivery of key points was at times great, but at other times he let the finer points get in the way, and some of his arguments were too academic for the audience. If Obama looked like a Professor, Biden looked like the 90 year old Dean of the University.
This debate I called for Biden. If it had been held 3 months ago, I would have called it the other way.
The polls, Fox aside, support the notion.
The electorate is changing.
At a time of economic crisis, and with wars on several fronts, the American people are looking past the politics of old, the politics of negative spin and sound bites, and want something more. It can be the only explanation for Obama and Biden winning both debates among swinging/ undecided voters in particular. Intelligence and a deep understanding of the issues are less of a crime in 2008.
There’s also the defeat of narrative + negativity over positives and intellect. Notice how McCain in the first debate referred to his experience in Vietnam, and how Palin said that only McCain knows how to fight and win. Being in a POW camp deserves respect, but it doesn’t give you a special ability to run the free world over your opponent. Notice Palin’s constant references to Alaska, and hockey moms, and her disabled child, having 5 children, running a small community etc etc…great narrative that may connect on some levels, but it’s no longer a vote winner over what you are capable of delivering and what your policies are.
Change starts from the ground up. If the polls continue, and Obama wins in a landslide (or something close to it), the people of the United States will join others in Australia and the United Kingdom in finally rejecting the negative politics that became the defining factor of all three in the late 90s and into the first decade of the 21st century. We’ll only know in November.