Our take on Tuesday’s debate

October 19, 2012

What happens when you ask a gaggle of news junkies to share takeaways from a presidential debate?  Well, you get a whole lotta communications insight and no small amount of snark.  Resource Medians chimed in post-debate.  See what you think.

Traditional feeds social, social feeds traditional. In covering a debate that logged more than 7.2 million tweets in 90 minutes, traditional political heavyweights CNN and Washington Post published news stories about twitter activity immediately following.  While CNN focused on funniest tweets, WashPo actually reported a story comprised entirely of the tweets from…traditional journalists! Advocates already know how to work both platforms, we can all do better leveraging the relationship between the two.

Soundbites are durable. Obama slips Big Bird (and Planned Parenthood) into a response about the economy. His campaign’s Big Bird ad has been viewed by nearly 4 million people on YouTube.

First impressions matter, and persist:  Coverage of Obama’s performance was consistently evaluated in comparison to the first debate.  Almost every article and newscast reminded the audience that Obama lost the first debate due to his lackluster performance.  Conversely, even while losing the second debate, Romney’s victory in round one was repeated over and over.

Heart over head. Romney’s best single moment was when he said to one audience member, “you know it in your heart, you feel it, that you just can’t go through another four years like we’ve just had.” No numbers, no five point plans, no policies, just connecting on an emotional level. The problem is, he didn’t repeat it enough, so it got lost in the mess of attacks, statistics, and one-two-three point plans. Good reminder that core campaign messaging is all about emotion and frame, not just facts.

The internet is fast: Romney’s comment about binders full of women spawned a Facebook page with 350k fans and a very popular Tumblr page instantaneously.

The 3 V’s are always in play.  Visual – how you look, Vocal – how you sound, Verbal – what you say.  One of our staffers watched the first half of the debate on TV and listened to the second half – including the exchange on Libya – on the radio. She noted that the President’s response on Libya sounded strong, and Romney’s less so, but was surprised to wake up the next morning to read that many were considering this exchange a devastating moment for Romney. The video showed a clear contrast between Obama’s eye contact and clear sincerity, and Romney’s awkwardness manifesting in a half–smile.  The body language was what turned this key portion of the debate from a smack down into a knock out blow.

Leaving the “47%” to the last minute of the debate was not an accident or a mistake.  Saving the attack to the very end left Romney with no opportunity to respond in front of a national TV audience. A really effective comeback might have limited Obama and his allies’ ability to use the issue effectively in paid advertising. Raising the issue when he did kept the issue in play at least until the final debate.

Talk is cheap. Obama spent a lot of time talking about what he said he’d do and what he did, which for an undecided voter unhappy with progress over the last four years may ring hollow. As in, “ok, you did everything you said you would do and my life still sucks. Maybe I’ll give Romney a try.”

Climate is still the snuffalupagus in the room. Candy Crowley’s claim that she didn’t have time to get to a climate change question made it clear that she didn’t perceive climate as a priority. And she distanced herself from those who are passionate about the issue by addressing “all of you climate change people.”  The road ahead is long, and steep, and full of danger.  Tuck in.