The First Dem Debate: What Determines the “WINNER?”

Yes siree, y’all, I’ll be up all bushy-eyed and bright-tailed to live-blog the live-stream of the first Democratic primary debate on Wednesday 26 June and the second iteration on Thursday 27 June because 9:00 PM EST is 3:00 AM in gay Paris! The alarm is set and Ima doin’ my homes and my works on the candidates, issues, positions, and debate strategies!

You know it’s going to be a snarky, sarcasticky, profaney good time that you won’t want to miss. It’ll be where all the cool nerds are hanging out during the debate. So, make your plans to join Ye Olde Blogge right here on Ye Olde Blogge!

If you’re like me and trying to figger out how to live-stream the debates, you’re in luck ’cause I done figgered it out, and I’ll share it with you!

The debate will stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms.

How to watch the first Democratic debate: Live stream, channels and more

Candidate Guides

There are a lot and I mean a lot you know when I say a lot, you know I mean a lot, right? There are a lot of candidates running. There are like elebity million imperial tons of candidates running around out there all shouting and screaming at once. It is hard to know them, in fact, I knew not their names, and I knew not their faces; they are all rank strangers to me. Maybe they are to you, too. If that’s your story, then, brothers and sisters, do I have a deal for you! You can find out all you need to know about the candidates at these handy-dandy primary primers:

Perception of Candidates

There are many factors that determine how voters perceive candidates and, ultimately, who they vote for, and we’ve gone over some of them here at Ye Olde Blogge. This is especially true in primary elections because voting in the general election is largely determined by partisanship, party affiliation, and ideology. Of course, like in every other way, the 2016 election is an exception. It was driven by misogyny and racism, but that’s less likely to be the case in 2020.

Primary elections are driven by perceptions of competence and electability, so that’s what I want to focus on here: what are the factors that cause viewers to perceive candidates as competent and electable? These are the things that I’ll be watching for on Wednesday and Thursday’s debates and the things that will likely determine the ultimate “winner!”

Experience: The Source of all Perceptions

As we’ve seen in earlier posts, perceptions of competence are based on previous experience with similar candidates which puts women and minorities at a distinct disadvantage since we have barely had any experience with those kinds of candidates, have we? We’ve had lots of experience with white male candidates so much so that we can take any candidate and say oh he’s like so-and-so who ran in such-and-such an election. Buttigieg is like Jimmy Carter in 1976. O’Rourke is like Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Fighting Joe is like, well, Joe Biden in 2012, 2008, and 1988. Bernie Sanders is like, well, Bernie in 2016.

You see? There’s something for everyone as long as you’re white and male! And, ain’t that the way America has always worked? So, isn’t opposing that like being un-American or something? Well, sure it is. For fucks sake, is it any wonder we are turning into the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid?

If you’re a woman, well, we had Hillary Clinton who wasn’t elected because she wasn’t likeable enough? Fuck no, it’s because she was a woman and misogyny ruled the election. And, if you’re black, there’s Barack Obama, who won in 2008 and 2012, so why are we still talking about racial discrimination and, now, reparations? Didn’t the Supreme Court gut the Voting Rights Act? Ain’t that enough for you people? But, also, his election brought the racist backlash that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber rode to his present position of watching pee-hookers piss on the Resolute Desk and American values.

So, who do you have if you’re a black woman like Kamala Harris? What do you do if you’re a very Trump-esque candidate in every way except you’re a woman like Tulsi Gabbard? And let’s face it, she’s from Hawaii which is hardly American and sorta ethnic, right? I mean that right there is suspect, amirite? Didn’t Obama claim he was “from” Hawaii? Can we really trust those people? Ain’t being from Hawaii just a bit better than being from Puerto Rico?

What do you do if you’re a white guy in every way except that you’re black, like Cory Booker — who can speak eloquently about being black in America and is, of course, black, but let’s face it, he can do the white shtick as well as Obama could, which makes him far more acceptable to white voters than let’s say Jesse Jackson — Remember him? He ran for president a few times, too. Coincidentally, in 1988 with Fightin’ Joe. Have we come full circle or what? — or a black woman like Kamala Harris — who is not exactly feminine and again, she can do the white shtick as well as anyone who needs to. If you want to prosecute the whole, “they ain’t black enough is bullshit” argument, go ahead, but… there is truth in the minority knowing much more about the majority culture than vice versa and being able to function in both cultures knowing the mores and norms of both. They got to. Otherwise, the white majority won’t accept them. Just like Julian Castro is Hispanic, but he’s also a very white Hispanic.

My point is, we ain’t got too many people like them to remind us of them. As human beings, we need to be able to predict the future, and we use our past experience to help us predict that future. So, when we’re thinking about who would make a good president, we look to past presidents to help us decide, and without those models of someone who like them to guide our perceptions and interpretations and predictions, it leaves them needing to fight harder to create that impression.

Easier Question Heuristic

Daniel Kahneman suggested that when we get a complex question like, Can this candidate be elected president? We generally try to find a related but easier question to answer because untangling that Gordian knot is too damn hard for most us to contemplate. What’s the easier question? Does this candidate look like a president? If we answer yes, we are likely to vote for that candidate. If we answer no, we aren’t.

When we looked at Barack Obama in 2008, and were asked, Can he win the presidency? We asked ourselves, Does he look like a president? And, we said, Yeah, he kinda does. He talks white. He has light skin. He seems polite for a black man. He don’t make me think immediately of a black gang banger coming to home invade us and rape our wives all strung out on dope. So, yeah. Maybe. Cory Booker is likely to benefit from both the seeming like a “safe” black man and Barack Obama coming before him. Many people will look at Cory Booker and think he looks like he could be president because Obama.

Kamala Harris, on the other hand, when we ask Can she be elected? we answer, Does she look like a president? Our response to that question is much more complex than even for Cory Booker because it is tied up in gender and Clinton and race. Ultimately, we decided that Clinton did not look like a president, even though we had thirty goddamn years to think of her as a possible president and seeing her in high and responsible offices. We also had a thirty year smear campaign against her, too.

Well, think about the smear campaign that has been going on since black people arrived in the Americas. Harris has to overcome the is she a likeable candidate just like Clinton did, but she also has to over come the angry black woman stereotype. These are hard cultural tendencies to overcome.

Discussing both of these candidates so frankly in terms of how we perceive them through our racial and gender lenses is painful. It hurts me to write it. I’m sure it hurts to read it. But, it is true and if either, but especially Harris, is to have a ghosts chance in hell of winning, we have to understand this dynamic and how to counter it.

Interestingly, there is talk in the black community of the backlash to Obama being Trump, so maybe, white America ain’t ready for another black president. Maybe it would be better to elect a white president who is good with black issues. I think I saw that discussion on Joy Reid‘s AM Joy show last weekend, which means it is pert near impossible to link directly to or even find again.

Judgments of Competence

One way we decide on who to vote for is based on do they look like previous presidential candidates and look presidential. That is a judgment of competence that white men get a walk on. Don’t believe me? What actually qualifies Buttigieg and O’Rourke? They’re white men. Why would we assume that either one has the competence to be president? What in their histories give us that reassurance? Nothing. And, neither have a very well developed policy portfolio, either, so why do we assume they are competent?

The Halo Effect

Readers of Ye Olde Blogge know that we are emotional decision-makers and use our rationality to justify our emotional choices. When we answer these questions, we answer them using our emotional brain and use our rational brain to justify it. In short, we like them. How were we introduced to either of them? O’Rourke almost won his Texas senate campaign against Ted the punch punch punchiest face, the face that all the mother’s love to punch Cruz, which endeared him to millions. And Buttigieg called out Mother Pence’s religious bigotry for gay men by telling him to argue with his maker. He seemed likeable after that. Now, that he’s having trouble mending cops killing black folk fences in South Bend, maybe less so.

Liking someone goes along way to papering over any shortcomings they may have had. It’s called the halo effect: if you like someone initially or even think that person is attractive or seems presidential, you’re far more likely to assume that everything else about them is great and hunk dory. That’s O’Rourke and Buttigieg and their positive media narrative, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The opposite is also true, the so-called horns effect. If you dislike someone, then you’re more likely to assume that everything about them is terrible and nasty. That’s the Ol’ Pussy Grabber for liberals. And, it will also be so for your least favorite Dem candidates. Many Clinton supporters can never see anything that Sanders does as being worthwhile, and vice versa.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error also factors into our reactions to candidates. People, in general, assign reasons for why we and everyone else do the things we do. When we ourselves do something stupid, it is because the sun was in our eyes, there was a fire, an earthquake, we didn’t have enough coffee, anything as long as it wasn’t our fault. When we do something good, it’s because we are all smart and good and perfect. It flips round when it comes to dealing with strangers: a stranger does something stupid, it’s because he is a clumsy oaf. And, anything good is an accident of circumstance. He got lucky.

We extend this to people who we are emotionally close to. If we love them, they get the same attribution errors we afford ourselves. It is one way to determine the quality of your marriage… if everything bad your spouse does is because he or she is a clumsy oaf, and anything good, an accident of circumstance, then you might wanna re-evaluate what’s going on in your marriage. People who’ve picked out a candidate will have similar reactions.

O’Rourke, again, benefits from this. We were rooting for him against Cruz. We thought he had a chance. We were all in. So, he can do no wrong… well, until someone better comes along. Hell, we didn’t marry him, did we?

Every candidate who started with a fan base, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris has a similar attribution profile. It’s one reason that name recognition is so important. And, those who don’t have that name recognition or fans, will suffer. We don’t know enough about them to overcome the negative dispositional attributions.

Debate Strategies

During the debate, we’re going to get to see the candidates under pressure and trying to perform. It’s a crowded field. They all need a break through moment. They all need to stand out from the crowd. And, more than likely, odds are, that someone will. If candidates know about the halo effect and fundamental attribution error, then they can have a chance to affect how they are perceived.

Better known candidates just can’t fuck up. Lesser known candidates have to be liked from the beginning. Hmmm… how can that be done? Well, it depends on the gender and race of the candidate. We know from earlier blog posts that perceptions of competence are gender and race based.

The White Male Privilege Strategy

White men have the privilege of being the only people who can be angry and proud. The Ol’ Pussy Grabber played this to a tee in the 2016 primary. He was angry and belittling and proud of his “record.” White male privilege means that no one questioned him on any of it. If was angry, he must have a good reason. If he was belittling, he might not be likeable, but he was powerful. If he was proud of his “record,” he must have a good record. He got the benefit of the doubt on all of it. Still does, too (Yeah, fuck you, Chuck Todd!)

I’m not saying that the white male candidates need to go full Pussy Grabber because no one will be able to pull it off like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber can. But if on Wednesday night, Jay Inslee, let’s say can have an angry moment and rail at the media for ignoring him even though he’s all about the super-important issue of climate change, he’ll probably benefit. He can’t have a spittle inflected podium flipping moment, but if he seems cheesed off, most people will give him the benefit of the doubt and perceive him as competent and, therefore, more electable, and his stock will rise at least somewhat. If Kristen Gillibrand were more angry, she’d probably be viewed as less competent and less likeable. The human psyche is weird that way.

The Minority Men Strategy

Cory Booker and Julian Castro, on the other hand, being minority men, cannot be seen as angry even if they have a good reason. Angry minority men are seen as threatening and much less than competent. For them, they must seem passionate and very well informed. They cannot stumble or hesitate in their responses. They had better have done their homework on the issues and have rehearsed clear, clean, enthusiastic summaries of their positions. They cannot go after the white candidates on any issue other than race and even then it is questionable.

It’s the fundamental attribution error on racial steroids. If they make a mistake or hesitate or seem confused, its because Booker is a stupid ______ and Castro is a lazy _______. If either one of them is angry, it’s because he is a thug, and we all know what thug is spelled backwards, don’t we?

The Women Strategy

Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kristen Gillibrand must seem passionate and energetic, luckily the first two are. They, too, cannot be angry unless there is a good clear reason for it. If the audience thinks their anger is justified, they are not penalized as much for it in the competency department. And for them, too, they have to know the issues and their positions on them. They cannot stumble when responding to a question. Otherwise, fundamental attribution error: she’s a bitch, she’s PMS’ing, she’s a castrating bitch, she’s not smiling enough. What the fuck ever. But, it’s true. They all have to be on their guard on that shit. It is such a tightrope to walk.

If one of the women reminds viewers even remotely of Hillary Clinton, it could be severely damaging — unfair though it is, and I love Clinton and I have the blog posts to prove it. If one of the minority candidates reminds folks of Barack Obama, it could be rewarding. All the white guys have to do is look “presidential.”

This is where Warren’s, Harris’, Booker’s, and Klobuchar’s passion and enthusiasm will likely pay off big dividends. Emotion is accepted as genuine. Viewers assume that it cannot be faked — it can, but just like well done CGI and other special effects that are physically impossible are accepted as possible, emotions are, too. Passion is seen as honest, likeable, and competent.

The Media Narrative Strategy

Then there is the spin afterward. These things can be spun to a limited degree by the candidates and the media and nowadays on social media by “influencers,” of which Ye Olde Blogge is not yet one, but I sure hope to be one day because I’m good enough; I’m smart enough; and, doggone it, people like me! The trick to spinning is getting it mostly “right” meaning that the spinner has to begin stating something close to what most viewers will interpret the situation as anyway. Getting that part right is mostly instinct, but once you’ve got someone agreeing with ninety percent of your interpretation, then convincing them of the other ten percent is easy.

It also is getting out there first with a big enough splash to grab everyone’s attention and either take it away from the other moments that need interpreting or from the other interpretations of your moment. The Ol’ Pussy Grabber was master of this technique, especially in the 2016 Repube primary.

As I said in an previous blog post, the media narrative has a tremendous effect on how we think about issues and candidates. The media already has a narrative for each candidate. It may differ by media outlet, but its there. And, much of the media narrative is driven by the same sexism and racism that drives the rest of the country not just because most reporters and media editors and executives are male, but because we’ve all internalized and have implicit sexism and racism.

As I’m live-blogging the live-streaming of the debates at three fucking AM on Thursday and Friday mornings, these are the things that I’ll be looking for and reporting on. I hope you’ll join me either before, during, or after the debates. If nothing else, it should be fun.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Let me know when and where you’ll be watching the debates. Are you going to a debate watching party? Who’s your favorite candidates or candidate? How do you think he or she did?

5 comments

    1. Howdy James!
      Unifying our country again? You don’t ask for much, do you? I’m not sure that we can ask for unification. I mean, we’ve been splitting ourselves apart since Reagan. With each presidency, the polarization only gets worse.

      I’d be happy with just some general civility and not abusing the filibuster.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Like

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