Debating Obama: Why the Media Hyperventilates Over Every Misstep

Debating Obama: Why the Media Hyperventilates Over Every Misstep


Ever since last week’s poor debate performance, Democratic partisans have been in “agony,” nervous angry and despondent over Barack Obama’s chances. They believe that one bad night in Denver will ruin his chance at reelection. Obama’s listless performance, they said, was a sign that he was incapable of finishing off the Romney campaign once and for all. Obama just doesn’t have the killer instinct and now he’s let Romney back into the race.

Yet, just a few weeks ago, many Republicans felt the same way. After Romney’s infamous “47%” comment, it became clear, his partisans believed, that Romney is just another overmatched candidate running an ineffectual campaign just as John McCain did four year earlier.

The reality is both sides are wrong because both sides are too quick to believe the media hyperventilation over every candidate misstep, miscue, or misstatement. What both sides forget is that hardcore partisans love it when the other side has a bad day and they try to get as much mileage as possible out of a bad day by their opponent. Press releases, press conferences and media allies jump all over a candidate who inarticulately trips over his own words.

The media, of course, is the real culprit. Given the 24-7 news cycle, the media needs gaffes or at least alleged-gaffes in order to have something new to talk about. In fact, reporters and pundits stake their own credibility on being able to uncover and exploit the latest candidate slip-up.

Partisans enjoy the mistakes, but rarely do these memorable moments change the trajectory of the race.

What people fail to notice in the drummed-up anxiety over Obama’s weak debate performance is that the underlying fundamentals that predict election outcomes have not changed in the last week. Actually, the fundamentals have not changed in moths. The unemployment rate remains high, but slowly trends in the good direction. Europe remains a mess, Congress remains a mess, and the Romney campaign continues to have no focus and seemingly changes its campaign strategy every week.

This is why political scientists know not to get caught up in one week of polling or the poll results from any one single company. Time smoothes out the rough edges of polling.

That has been the campaign reality since early spring. As long as those trends do not change, a couple of bad weeks for Romney are balanced out by one bad week for Obama.

If I am wrong and you are an Obama supporter, one thing that should make you feel better is the $181 million the campaign raised in September. That can certainly smooth out a rough week.