Joe Biden appealed to Democratic partisans, firing them up by attacking and, even more often, smirking at Paul Ryan’s arguments. But smirks only work when your audience starts off agreeing with you. That would be the case with strong Democratic partisans, but it’s not at all that clear that it appeals to Independents, or to those who are undecided or moveable. He was trying to dismiss Ryan’s arguments as ridiculous, in line with Democratic talking points that no rational person could possibly agree with him, but I think that only works with people who are already convinced. He may have increased Democratic voters’ enthusiasm—down in the dumps after Barack Obama’s performance eight days ago—but he didn’t do much in the way of converting those who are not already converted.
I was struck by the difference between the generational and gender appeal of the two candidates. The dial groups showed that Ryan did better with women than with men—in vivid contrast with the usual partisan patterns. Biden talked strongly about the need to keep Social Security and Medicare as “guaranteed” programs—the kind of thing that has tended over the years to older voters over the years (though they have tended to favor John McCain or Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). But I think that Ryan’s argument that we need to reform these programs in order to make them available to people currently under 55. Similarly, Biden’s frequent dismissals of Ryan’s and Romney’s positions as “malarkey” may resonate with people of Biden’s generation—but who under age 40 uses the word “malarkey” any more? And, similarly once again, moderator Martha Raddatz’s question about abortion, inviting Biden to appeal to the issue that supposedly “women” care about more than any other, struck a tinny note as young voters are not afraid that abortion will somehow be suddenly criminalized by the Supreme Court, as Biden suggested it would although a reversal of Roe v. Wade would only send the issue to the states, few if any of which would vote to criminalize abortion.
Ryan was impressive on foreign policy, going toe to toe with a man who served 36 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Ryan effectively made the argument that the Obama administration’s policy was in disarray, that the world is spinning out of control.
A hush came over the debate circa 10:00pm Eastern when both candidates started talking about Afghanistan, citing their own experiences there. Biden pretty much stopped smirking at that point, as if he no longer thought it appropriate. But I suspect many television viewers had concluded that it was inappropriate far earlier in the debate. Biden was doing the bidding of Team Obama: ridicule Romney’s and Ryan’s ideas as inappropriate—a “bunch of stuff,” as Biden said, to which Ryan interjected, “It’s Irish.” My sense is that that’s not convincing to anyone who is not already convinced.
The instant polls: CNBC had it Ryan 56%-36%, CBS Biden 50%-31%, CNN Ryan 48%-44%, AP Ryan 51%-43%. Not nearly as one-sided as the instant responses to the first presidential debate in Denver. My sense: Biden pumped up partisan Democrats, but failed to win over the voters who are taking a serious look at Romney at a point when he is up in national polls.