The First Debate, and the Swing Vote

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during their first debate. (Alex Johnson/WGBH)

Every four years, millions of Americans tune in for the three 90-minute presidential debates, which are typically the only time in the political process that voters have the opportunity to see the candidates discussing the issues face to face. This election season, the issue at the forefront is the struggling U.S. economy. 

But how much of an impact do the debates really have when it comes to the ever-important swing vote? Six independent voters join us to discuss the highs and lows of the first televised debate, and how the performances of the two candidates might sway them.

Produced by:

Rebecca Klein and Maggie Penman

Comments [23]

Catherine from Westchester

To the people you interviewed today who are struggling to decide whether to stay with Obama or switch to Romney:

One mediocre performance is enough to turn you around 180 degrees??!! Have you forgotten everything else you knew about the candidates?? And the comment from the person who had thought Obama would make everything right by doing things like walking thru low-income and minority communities like RFK used to do; well, we know how things worked out for him. Let's keep our focus on the issues and track record. After all, they're not running for American Idol. One thing I'm pretty sure of: we need educational reform: better civics training for students from elementary thru high school.

Oct. 09 2012 04:09 PM
Patrice Showers Corneli from Salt Lake City

I remember that Reagan ran against Carter complaining about the 68 billion deficit. This despite the fact that Carter's deficit was lower than Nixon/Ford's. Reagan went on to leave office with a deficit of nearly $500 billion.

Now I am a statistician and love to look at and graph data myself. So I downloaded deficit data from the Government Accounting Office for 1947 until now and graphed it.

I did this as a fact check on years of Republican that the Dems are responsible for big spending and consequent deficits. The graph is on my facebook page.

We already know that Bush destroyed Clinton's surplus and returned us to deficit spending as big as Reagans and then some.

Turns out that the deficit is huge for Obama. But his debt was highest in 2009 following the Bush mad spending spree and following an economic collapse that could have led to a great depression.

One cannot attribute that large debt to Obama because policies take some time to show up in the economy. Since taking office less than 4 years ago, the deficit has gone down every year now totaling $400 billion in recovery.

Furthermore, on Obama's watch, unemployment has gone from losing 800,000/month in 2008 to job gains. And the unemployment rate has gone from over 10% to 7.8%. And these are real gains lately not just people dropping out of the jobs market.

Oct. 09 2012 03:19 PM
Lisa M from Willits, CA

To base your vote on the leader of one of the most powerful nations on Earth on one debate is like choosing your spouse on a single snapshot. The debate is one picture of a vast panoramic view that includes an underlying philosophy of what a community/country should look like.

I mean come on, haven't you ever had a bad picture?

Oct. 09 2012 09:38 AM
David from Plantation, FL

Apathy is apathy and the question that remains is if by any chance Romney does become president, will his campaign strategy of not caring about half of America become his 4 year journey. I dont see him working side by side with democrats in anything he does. He is polar, very cocky and his zeal strikes people as being an offensive move to defend the fact that he has no strategy. Telling people you will repeal Obamacare and that Obama had 4 years and didnt accomplish anything, we all know, is not presidential material. More like first grade stuff. To get my vote, he needs to tell me he will do differently. How will he stimulate the economy without making the rich richer and how he will help those who need help ( which are not the republicans). He didnt accomplish that in the campaign until now or in the first debate. That was a one man pissing contest. He needs to get down to earth and speak to the people, not the media.

Oct. 07 2012 05:16 PM
vj from USA

Debate was on who can sell most lies & Obama chose silient participation. Who wins then?

Oct. 06 2012 09:13 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

"Rope-a-Dope!" You fortify yourself. Hide any grimaces. Let the ropes absorb the impacts of your opponents punches. Give a few swings now and then so that everyone knows there's a fight going on. It also keeps the other guy off-balance and maybe overconfident. Whilst learning all his moves and style. His modus operandi.

This isn't your first debate. So you can come back later and use the first one to size up the competition. Do you use all your material now where the opposing party can go to work on devising counter moves (generally empty plans)? Or do you see what he's made of and come back to -in a very gentlemanly way- crush him?

Am I the only one who sees strategy? I don't even watch boxing and I still recognized something like this could be going on on national TV.

Oct. 05 2012 09:29 AM
Jay from Brooklyn

Romney made an unpleasant reference to "New York Lawyers". I heard that as a coded reference to 'Jewish Lawyers". Anyone else?

Oct. 04 2012 10:37 PM
Nancy from Seattle

This is an election about what type of America we want. Do we hold onto the illusion that the American dream is alive and well. That the rich should control all the wealth and prosperity in this country...because it might trickle down to everyone else? Do we like the idea that everyone needs to take care of themselves and forget about those less fortunate. Or, do we want an America where everyone works together to achieve success. Where we celebrate success because everyone has the same chance at a good life in America... Where we take care of our elderly, weak, and vulnerable because it's the right thing to do. During the debate, Romney did a good job of masking his elitist view of the issues. But it's still clear that he wants to hold onto trickle down theory, cut social security, shrink Government, get rid of mandated health insurance, tax everyone except the rich and punish China....whatever that means. Obama did not fight as hard as he could have, but he has a more balanced approach to deficit reduction that more closely represents my goals for America. Hopefully he will take more of a stand next time.

Oct. 04 2012 07:07 PM
Jen from NJ

President Obama came off as someone getting his licks and Governor Romney came off sounding like a typical frustrated American. That's fine on both sides - President Obama inherited an enormous mess so his feet should be held to the fire. He knows that and I think he's actually ok with that because he takes great pains to make sure the people feel they are a part of the conversation and the debate. And I have no problem with Governor Romney's aggressive style - it's a sale tactic, though not tested on the D.C. front. I do think it's important to note that Governor Romney says he is all about the compromise love, but his debate style did little to reveal that about him.

Oct. 04 2012 03:37 PM

"Big Bird, Weak and Poverty-Stricken, Dying of Avian Flu"
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Oct. 04 2012 03:23 PM
Melanie from Orange County, New York

I watched the debate on Democracy Now because they heard from candidates in the Green and Justice parties. WHy is NPR not covering the fact that there continue to be only two candidates in these debates? League of Women Voters herstory in order here.

Oct. 04 2012 03:22 PM
k luna from oregon

Don't underestimate the impact of Romney's performance. Mr. President, take off the gloves and call him out on the LIES, BACKPEDALING, OFF SHORE BANK ACCOUNTS, 'ENTITLEMENT', RELIGION, RACISM, 47 PER CENT, WOMEN AND GET IT DONE! Get your energy - and your EYES when on camera - up! This is yours to lose. Or win. We Do Not W ant to move toCanada...

Oct. 04 2012 01:45 PM
Ron Hunter Jr from Richland, OR

I am encouraged that Romney was able to articulate with poise and authority the reasonableness and urgency for the Republican policies. So much of the media is supportive of Obama and his views, the moderator even went to the aid of Obama in the debate at one point, the the public is met with a false understanding of the Republican solutions.

Oct. 04 2012 01:38 PM
Joe Russo from Staten Island

Think strategy. Republican money will now stay with Romney, who will lose anyway, instead of flowing to down tickets. Result: Obama wins, Senate stays democratic and republican house advantage shrinks! Smart!

Oct. 04 2012 01:25 PM

I believe that it is time to wake up and to see that the values that have been shaped our life by by media and etc are not real,and we should be more honest to ourself,and do not let these intertainments such as debates to play with our emotion,and to couse us choose wrong choice . The best way is ,if we really care about our life ,to study these tow candidate,then listening to our logic and to our inner being.good luck to all.

Oct. 04 2012 01:15 PM
Karen Pearson from Mass.

Romney looked very good, but he was lying through his teeth, which you realized if you have been following the campaigns and the fact checkers carefully. Unfortunately, Obama looked to me like he was being too polite.

Oct. 04 2012 01:14 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

We have become a Society of "Mystery Science Theater" fans when it comes to Twitter and social networking...

I watched the debates without anyone tweeting in my ears...or without feeling the need to say anything... (which is surprising for me). I just wanted to listen and take it seriously... and now I am ready to party after sleeping on it.
Romney won it but still doesn't have my vote. I can't believe he didn't say anything dumb. Obama looked like he had a stomach ache.

Oct. 04 2012 11:58 AM
Ana from MA

I am an undecided voter from Massachusetts. In 2008 I voted for Obama, but was pretty disappointed in last night's debate. I am very surprised that I haven't heard anyone comment on the President's claim that there was a surplus during the Clinton Administration. The only time in American history that there was a surplus was when Andrew Jackson was in office. Why has that comment been overlooked?

Oct. 04 2012 11:01 AM
rafe hammerr from dc

I don't know why your people keep saying that Romney has not been specific. We know what loopholes he wll close (mortgage deductions for high earners, medical expenses for high earners). His tax cut plan FOR ALL, especally the middle class, is revenue positive because the more money in the hands of people, the more spending they do and the more the economy grows, and the more taxes we pay because of higher incomes. At last, Romney had a chance to swat down Obama's lies about his policies. He hit a home run.

Oct. 04 2012 10:22 AM
Jason - Highland, MI from Highland, MI

I knew Romney would stand up there and lie about everything he would actually do. He'll take whatever position appears to give him the Percieved win on an issue during debate. He only cares about winning, not about being a transformational president. I only hope that most people can see through his fake persona and arrogant contempt of the non-rich displayed in his expressions, demeanor, and communications with those not like he. Obama needs to fight fire with fire. The facts are on his side, as well as historical data. He needs to take the gloves off and call Romney the liar he is.

Oct. 04 2012 10:12 AM
Dan S from NJ

It was Three Card Romney and the public is the mark.

Oct. 04 2012 08:24 AM
Elissa from Brooklyn

Hooray for the first intelligent debate I've seen in years. I am grateful to Jim Lehrer for instructing the audience not to respond, eliminating the tedious, applause-grabbing campaign sound bites that have infected debates for years. And, yes, poor Mr. Lehrer lost control of the debate, but he allowed more extended and deeper discussion between the candidates of the topics they did cover.

Oct. 04 2012 08:14 AM
Carolyn Blackburn from Washington Heights/Inwod

The spin specialists are harping about why the president wasn't tougher: 'why didn't he mention the 47%? ...his position on women's rights? Yada yada ...). There should be no need; a president stands on a record.
We, as a society, say that we 'shun' the dirt, yet, when we don't get it, we're surprised. We're disappointed that the incumbent (regardless of party) 'looks tired' - no foolin'- they're running our country; the challenger isn't.
A suggestion for future debates: the In advance, the candidate submit an overview of their position on 'hot topic' issues, reminding those who aren't paying attention

Oct. 04 2012 08:02 AM

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