How not to connect with voters in a debate

Nate Silver today posted this video clip from the second debate in 1992 between President George H.W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton (and Ross Perot, although he does not appear on this clip).  This is a town hall-style debate, just like tonight’s format.  Check out the connection, or lack thereof, made by the candidates and the woman who poses the question.

10 responses to “How not to connect with voters in a debate”

  1. govrobin1 says :

    For a town hall debate meant to allow for candidates to connect with average citizen, President George H. W. Bush sure did take a simple question and respond to it with a complicated answer while still managing to avoid that question. Personally I believe that comparing our economic status and the effect our countries economy has on us to cancer is absurd and I see no parallels in that metaphor. Essentially, President Bush skirted around the answer, no it has not personally affected me, by asking her to clarify and then ignoring the question. Not to say that Governor Clinton responded directly either, he too only spoke of indirect effects the economy has had on him, but at least he explained how the national debt is not the only factor causing economic hardships. Furthermore, he related this to how it applies in his state, therefore providing somewhat of an example. All in all, I hope that in tonight’s debate the candidates will overcome the “norm” of bending a question to make it work for them and actually participate in what this format of debate is meant to provide us with and connect to the American citizens.

  2. emmar4 says :

    It seems that, especially in a town hall debate, candidates try to buy as much time as possible to think about their answer. In this clip, it translated into the somewhat uncomfortable interaction between the candidate and woman asking the question (at least with the president). I agree with Robin that another way to buy time or to shift the response in his favor, each candidate twists the question. Both Bush and Clinton gave a roundabout answer which made it more complicated and helped their case, but it didn’t exactly answer the question. Another aspect of the town hall debates is that you can see the reaction of the person who asked the question. As with this video, it is easy to tell whether they feel satisfied with the response and if their question was answered or not. I think showing this reaction will also have an impact on the voters who are watching.

  3. iqra07 says :

    I agree with both Emma and Robin that in town hall debates, candidates often take a question and give a very off topic answer in order to either buy time or conceal their actual answer. Bush attempted to avoid answering the question, by having the question clarified multiple times, playing dumb, and going off on a tangent about black, pregnant teenagers and how the recession is like cancer. He also made the mistake of getting very defensive, further proving his ‘guilt’ or inability to answer the question without looking like a rich snob who the average person can’t relate to.
    Clinton wasn’t quite clear in his answer either, but he made an effort to focus on this woman and other people who are struggling like her. Instead of talking about the letters he reads like Bush, Clinton spoke of “his people,” the ones he knows and sees suffer. As the challenger of the incumbent, Clinton also had the advantage of blaming Bush’s policies for the woman’s pain, creating somewhat of a camaraderie with her. By sympathizing with people who are struggling financially, I think Clinton succeeded in connecting with the woman who asked the question, and all the other Americans who can relate to her.

  4. Ellen7 says :

    As for the cancer comment suggesting that it’s not okay to say something like “you haven’t had cancer, you don’t know what it’s like” I agree with Robin that It is completely irrelevant. It’s obvious that he’s beating around the bush, trying to buy time and is unsure how to fully answer the question to please the people yet remain honest. On a side note, I also think that it’s perfectly acceptable to say that you wouldn’t know what it’s like unless you’ve had cancer. This does not mean that you don’t have sympathy for or a desire to help those who do, but in reality, you wouldn’t know what it’s like. And I think that is what the woman in the audience is getting at with her question about “has the national debt personally affected you?” She’s aware that both candidates on stage are privileged, wealthier men and is drawing attention to the fact that they most likely aren’t as personally affected by the debt as many others in the country. Bush knows it doesn’t affect him the same as others (for example the woman’s friends who have been laid off and can’t afford their car payments). But instead of beginning to talk about the grandchildren he loves, I think he should’ve admitted that no, the national debt in fact does not greatly affect him personally and gone into depth about how he plans to solve the problem, reassuring those who want to see it handled. I think people would’ve respected his honesty and willingness to find a solution a lot more than the answer he gave (or attempted to give).

    Once he is corrected by both the woman asking the question and the moderator, he loses his temper. It becomes a very awkward situation. “You outta be in the white house for a day…” he pulls the pity card about how hard life is as president and that is not the point of the question.

    In any candidates’ defense, in any given debate, it must be hard to come up with an educated and well-worded answer that both satisfies the people watching and accurately represents his beliefs. However, these people are running for president and this is their job. I don’t think it’s unfair to be tough on them and hold higher expectations when it comes to their public speaking and ability to organize their thoughts and respond honestly, maturely and in a timely manner. I don’t believe Bush handled the situation well at all and I imagine this debate was harmful to his likability.

  5. sarahb7 says :

    I agree with both Emma and Robin that neither president really answered the question, but I think that Clinton gave a better response because he was polite, considerate, and seemed to genuinely care about the people whose jobs were lost. For the uninformed section of the American population, the debates are more about the impression they get from a candidate, and less about the principals behind the candidate’s argument. So Bush coming across as distracted, impersonal, and rude likely didn’t gain him any votes, even if his ideas were superior to Clinton’s. Personality and being relatable counts just as much, if not more than, the quality of a candidate’s response.

  6. bump7 says :

    Although the question is not worded greatly it is still a simply question that President Bush was highly unprepared for. He comes across as arrogant and defensive about the whole situation, and it doesn’t help when he is forced to be reeled back in when he tries to answer around the question. By making an attempt to say it is unfair to say “you haven’t had cancer you don’t know what it is like”, President Bush only comes across as more arrogant. However Governor Clinton does an excellent job in relating to the question by tying it into Arkansas and how job/income loss, due to the Bush administration. I feel that this clip is a great example of how important the town hall debate is in the presidential election because it allows the candidates to relate to the undecided voters, and the undecided voters to see a more personal side of the candidates. This is essential because people want someone who they feel they have a personal connection to running their country.

  7. BenLev4 says :

    As we saw a few nights ago, and once again are reminded in this video, town hall debates put the candidates on the spot a lot more than any other debate. The reason is simple, the candidates do not know the questions they will be asked. A few nights ago we expected questions on the economy, Libya, and the environment. Although, there were some other questions that took me by surprise such as AK 47’s and equality in women’s pay. Prior to this debate, I heard little to zero talk about either of these topics. But as politicians, both candidates we able to beat around the bush, knock his opponent, and turn the question into whatever statement they wanted to make. A question that reminds me of the one in the Bush/Clinton debate from a few nights ago is the question on the misperceptions that America may have on the candidate. The topic of the debate was foreign and domestic policy’s so this is a question that would be hard to predict. As is the one above. Neither Clinton, Gore, Romney, or Obama wants to portray something negative about themselves. Romney isn’t going to say I’m worth $400 billion dollars so people think I’m out of place, nor will Bush say that the national debt hasn’t effected him since graduating from Yale followed by a successful business career. Town hall debates offer something no other debate does. In the first debate (on domestic policy), Lehrer was not about to ask a question like the one above. The town hall debates are often unpredictable. This is where the best debaters thrive. If they can successfully handle unpredictable questions, they look brilliant. On the other hand, you can flop like Bush did above. Of course Clinton had the luxury of going second, but he has always been a great speaker and this proves it. A question like this can make or break the debate.

  8. Crawford4 says :

    The is no question the town hall style of debate is the more interactive debate and keeps both candidates on their tows at all times. The question was an interesting one because usually questions like we saw the other night are broad questions in which the candidates bring up personal experiences when is it most convenient for them but in this question personal experience was asked directly of the candidates. The problem with Bush’s answer was he took as specific question and went broad with it. Broad questions can stay broad, broad and go down to specific, but specific questions have to stay specific in the answer or the candidate looks ill-prepared and not truthful. Clinton got a personal question and stayed personal with it which gave him the easy win on that question.

  9. Liz7 says :

    When a president is in office, he has little interaction with rest of the people. Samuel Popkin described how Obama was kept in a “bubble” before the most recent election. As an incumbent, President Bush probably had not had many Q&A sessions with real people before this debate. Bush probably felt sorry for this woman, probably wanted to provide her with a decent solution, but he was so disconnected and out of touch he came off as arrogant and unsympathetic. As Governor, Clinton had much more practice dealing with personal issues rather than broad ideas, like the President deals with. Clinton was probably just as wealthy as Bush, but because he had practice dealing with these sort of personal stories he had the ability to appear more in touch. I think this highlights a serious disadvantage incumbents have in elections. Though they rarely lose a second term, 4 years in office takes a serious toll on their ability to connect with voters. In 2008 Obama was seen as this rare Senator who would finally enact change in Congress, because he understood Americans better than any white, rich, conservative could. And even though he won this year, I felt there was considerably less enthusiasm in the election. I think this can absolutely be contributed to the fact that Obama has been isolated to the Oval Office, and is now seen as a politician rather than a true American.

  10. jackb7 says :

    This one is tough for me, namely because I love Bill Clinton to death. This one’s hard for me because I hate to see good man and solid president like H.W. chastised for his wealth and prosperity. I see the rationale behind asking how somebody can possibly represent you when they can’t relate to you, but it does hurt to watch someone like George Bush get torn apart in the process, especially as he’s a figure who through research i’ve grown to respect. That being said, trickle down economics has never worked and will never work, and if you’re competing to try and connect with the voters, you better hope your opponent isn’t Bill Clinton because there few as personable, relatable, and efficient as he, as evident by his legacy and 66% approval rating as he left office.

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