The Blue Screen of Death greeted me at the office this morning, suggesting my laptop wasn’t ready for its autumn vacation to end. Nonetheless, albeit belatedly …
It was a good trip, but it’s even better to get back here right in the swing of the election season, with just under a month to go until election time.
The big story while I was gone, of course, was last week’s debate between Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood’s Empty Chair President Obama. The consensus is that Romney won handily, and the opinion polls show a much-tightened race as a result: Not only is Obama’s lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls down to just 1.1 percentage point, but Romney is up to his highest level in the past year, over 47 percent on average.
Without getting into details from the debate’s exchanges which y’all have probably already read many times during the past several days, I do want to make one observation. I watched the debate in its entirety on CNN International, but not until it was rebroadcast about 10 hours later. Just before the replay began, CNN ran through the day’s headlines — including the belief among analysts and even a snap poll of undecided viewers that Romney was the runaway winner. Intrigued, my dad and I watched with the expectation of a blow-out performance by Romney. I think it’s fair to say we both thought he won the debate, but not as easily as we’d been led to believe.
As I understand it, this contrasts significantly with the expectations set for most Americans who watched it live. From what I hear, the lead-up to the debate framed it more as the beginning of a month-long wake for Romney’s campaign. His lack of a convention bounce and much-parsed comments about the “47 percent” had all but snuffed out his chances, and the eloquent Mr. Obama would finish him off by verbally slicing and dicing him before a national TV audience.
Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but here’s the point: Expectations matter. If you’re conditioned to believe Obama’s going to flatten Romney in the debate, then watch as Romney is energetic and aggressive while Obama drones on and spends much of his time looking down at the lectern, you’re likely to believe Romney seriously over-performed. Had the pundits beforehand proclaimed Romney as the heavy favorite, his actual performance might not have lived up to it.
Again, I thought Romney really did get the better of Obama. But as we head into the remaining debates — particularly including Thursday’s vice presidential debate, in which Paul Ryan is widely expected to have his way with the malapropism-prone Joe Biden — this is a reminder to be aware of how the expectations game colors actual performances.
– By Kyle Wingfield