Craig Frucht | Road to November
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 07:10
Tomorrow marks the beginning of presidential debate season. But before I get into that, I want to talk about a debate I got into last week. It took place over Facebook.
There is perhaps no hour less productive than the one spent participating in a Facebook political debate. You drop whatever work you should be doing, you scour the Internet looking for statistics to rebut your opponent, and if you’re like me, you edit and re−edit your posts to make sure they’re free of grammatical errors.
You do all this without the slightest hope of changing a single person’s mind. “Winning” usually means you post an argument so long−winded your opponent simply doesn’t have the energy to respond to it. You’re mostly just seizing an excuse to blather on about a subject in which your real−life friends can barely feign interest anymore, which is also the primary motivation for writing a Daily column.
Even by Facebook flame−war standards, this one was trivial. It began with a Facebook status from my brother that criticized Republicans for blaming Mitt Romney’s declining poll numbers on the polls themselves rather than on the ineptitude of their candidate.
A Republican we both know posted a sneering reply in which he claimed that anyone who understands how polls work knows that mainstream outlets weight their samples to match the 2008 electorate and are thus working under a false assumption that Democratic turnout will be equally strong this time around.
Though the statistics geek in me is tempted, I’ll refrain from delving into the nitty−gritty details of polling methodology and the miracle of random sampling. Suffice to say, the above assertion is nonsense. Mainstream pollsters like Marist, Quinnipiac and The Washington Post don’t weight the partisan makeup of their samples at all, because doing so is unscientific and introduces bias into the results.
My point is this: What does it say about our political discourse that instead of debating real issues like how to create jobs, we were squabbling over the validity of public opinion polls?
And this argument was far from an isolated incident. Once Romney’s gaffe−laden September began to weigh down his poll numbers, Republican media outlets from the Weekly Standard to Breitbart.com launched a full−on assault against the pollsters, accusing them of deliberately misrepresenting their data to give Obama favorable media coverage — even while many of the polls came from Republican−leaning organizations like Insider Advantage, Civitas and Fox News.
Right−wing Republicans are so allergic to facts contradicting their worldview that they demonize anyone who provides them. Liberal Democrats, for their part, while they have a much healthier attitude toward science than their conservative counterparts, often exhibit a hysterical terror of free−market capitalism that borders on paranoia. These are the filters through which Romney and President Obama will deliver their agendas tomorrow, and through which the public will determine a victor.
So I can’t help rolling my eyes whenever I hear about how the debate could be a “game−changer” in the race. It’s a refrain popular among both the mainstream media and Republican establishment figures. But most of the debate watchers will be so convinced of their candidate’s rightness that they’ll be ready to declare a “winner” before Jim Lehrer has even cleared his throat.
Still, the debates are worth paying attention to, mainly for the gaffes they can produce. If either candidate has anything like a Rick Perry “oops” moment, expect it to dominate the media narrative from now until Election Day. And it’s true that this is one of Romney’s last chances to convince voters he is, in fact, a human. But, save for some instructive moments of spontaneity, tomorrow will be a battle of tired campaign talking points, and it will have all the intellectual depth of a Facebook flame war.
Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in psychology. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.