Oct. 5, 2008
ST LOUIS – It’s all about Sarah.
At what was expected to be one of the most-viewed vice presidential debates in history, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin went toe-to-toe Thursday night at Washington University.
What sets this debate apart from vice presidential debates past? Palin and the undecided voter.
“We’re in an unusual year — the fact that [Palin] is a woman and particularly the fact that she is a woman in the aftermath of the Hillary Clinton campaign,” said Vincent Hutchings, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research Center for Political Studies.
A poll conducted last month by the Associated Press found that 18 percent of would-be voters don’t know who they want to win Nov. 4th. When compared to this same time four years ago, undecided voters totaled only 4 percent.
Hutchings, an expert in elections, public opinion and voting behavior, said that traditionally, vice presidential debates haven’t impacted swing voters they way this year’s match up could.
While Washington University seniors and Obama supporters Kristine Agbayanbi from San Jose, Calif., and Jennifer Rogier of St. Louis, didn’t know what to expect before the debate, they left the arena Thursday night with a newfound respect for the Alaska governor.
“With all the hype surrounding both of them, I think they both did really well,” Agbayanbi said.
“Their back-and-forth dialogue was really intriguing,” Rogier said.
Hiral Desai, a Washington University junior from Chicago, was an Obama-Biden supporter before she walked through the doors of the debate arena. That didn’t change after listening to the candidates for 90 minutes.
“She impressed me a lot. I found some of her points valid for sure, but I’m still supporting Obama and Biden.”
For first-time voter Rachel Bauer, 23, of Eau Claire, Wis., the fact that Palin is a woman is not the cause of her indecisiveness. Bauer wants to hear more specifically what each side of the ticket plans to do to address the economy, turmoil within financial institutions and the downturn on Wall Street.
“I feel just because she’s a woman she’s getting a lot of attention, and I don’t remember that much attention being focused on the vice presidential candidates in the last election,” Bauer said. “It’s important that people listen to both sides and don’t just vote for somebody just because somebody else is.”
Eric Samuelson, 35, of Chicago watched the debates on television.
“The reason I’m so undecided is, I really want to hear something, and I don’t necessarily know what that something is — but I want them to tell me something they’re going to do that is going to make the next four years different than the last eight,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson said he was impressed with both Palin’s and McCain’s performances.
“I thought [Palin] showed a lot of knowledge on foreign policy and the economy,” said Samuelson. “I think Biden did an excellent job as far as attacking John McCain and not attacking Palin in any way.”
Samuelson was also impressed with Palin’s sociability when she asked Biden if she could call him Joe at the start of the debate.
“She’s got a certain level of charm just like Barack does,” he said.
While Samuelson plans to watch the two remaining presidential debates to help him who will win his vote, political science professor Michael Mezey at DePaul University in Chicago does not see this debate making a significant difference.
“There is no evidence that any vice presidential debate has ever had any impact on the election,” Mezey said.
“It’s all about perception,” Mezey said. “Nobody will remember the policy that was discussed — it will be personal impressions on the candidates.”
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