Monday, September 29, 2008

Progressive expectations and the debates

Maggie says:
After the first debate on Thursday, I was struck by something happening over on CNN: the table's initial reactions to the debate were significantly more pro-Obama than my own. In fact, a live focus group on CNN gave Obama a resounding debate "win" over McCain, which led their website coverage the next day. On Sunday, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed the same thing: Obama "won" the debate by 12 points.

These findings are curious to me, and I wonder why my own perceptions are not more aligned with other debate-watchers. I think most of us live-blogging, and much of the media as well, felt that Obama missed a lot of opportunities, and that the debate was no more than a draw. But a 12-point Obama win, according to a random sample? How could such a difference in perception be explained?

It also occurs to me that many of us likely rated Al Gore and John Kerry's debate performances much higher than most Americans, yet now we're rating Obama's debate performance lower than most Americans. What gives?

I wonder if we're so nervous about this election and our expectations are so high, that we've lost perspective on how well our own candidates reads to the American people. I wonder if the last two elections have turned out so badly for us that we expect at any moment for the worst to happen. I wonder if as much as we fervently believe the American people had to have had enough of Republican policies and all they have wrought, we fear they can still be swayed by the politics of fear and negativity that paved the way for our losses these last eight years. Are we all hopeless cynics by now?

I wonder also how our perceptions will play out against the nation's come Thursday night. Is this same group of us who felt that Obama did worse than the country thought he did harder on and more embarrassed by Sarah Palin than everyone else? In many ways, this will be the first snapshot of American opinion about Palin since her disastrous interviews. The only polls we've seen about her come from the first week she was nominated. How will the expectations game play out three days from now?

I'm itching to find out.