Now that both heats of the first Democratic presidential primary debate have finished, and both have been thoroughly analyzed, we can turn our attention to the most salient question of all, who won?
As I pointed out last post, it is an extremely complex issue to sort out when you have 20 master debaters all going at it in a big semi-circle divided over two nights. There’s a lot of moving parts there.
The Factors Influencing Perception
While this is, what, my fifth post on the topic, I’ll briefly go over the salient psychological factors that influence our perceptions of the “winner.”
- The easier question heuristic: When faced with a difficult question that will require a lot of thought and effort to answer if it is even answerable at all, we tend to unconsciously find a similar, but easier question to answer. More than likely, it will also be one we’ve answered before. That’s called the easier question heuristic. We use it all of the time.
- Fundamental attribution theory: When we see other people doing stuff, we try to figure out why. It follows predictable patterns for most of us.
- The halo effect: If we like someone, especially if we don’t know much about them, we tend to assume that they do everything well, especially concerning the things we think are important. In short, we give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Social status conferral: When we interact directly with people or watch them interact, we begin to assign them social status based on our impressions of them. Who gets higher and lower status conferred upon them is very dependent on gender roles and social norms.
- The peak-end rule: After we’ve had an experience, when we think back upon it, two factors have the most influence on how we feel about it. They are the most emotionally intense moments (the peak) and how we felt at the end of the experience.
All of these factors will influence who you feel won the debate. And, it will differ from person to person and be influenced by the opinions of others. So, real quick, before we go any further, answer the question I’ve listed below. Don’t think about it. Don’t cipher it. Don’t do anything but respond with the first person you think of. If you wanna, you could put your answer right now in the comments. It could be fun.
More than likely, even if you don’t know who won, you probably have a gut feeling, an opinion, an intuition. The more you think about a choice like this, the more you’ll muck it up. That’s a robust psychological finding. If you ask two sets of people to choose something from a set of choices: cars, houses, posters, scraps of paper, used paper clips, It doesn’t matter, you’ll find a trend. If you had half of them make the choice and write down all the reasons they chose it, and the other half to just make the choice without reflecting on it, who do you think will be happier with their choice in six months? If you said the people who just chose without reflection, you’d be right. We fuck those opinion type things up when we think too much about them at least from the standpoint of whether or not we’re satisfied and happy with our choices.
I’m not going to tell you who won the debate. I’ll tell you things about each of the candidates and how I think their behavior and other factors caused people to react to them. Primarily, I’m not concerned with a winner. I am, however, concerned with these three questions:
- Who helped themselves, meaning who made it more likely that they’d win the nomination or be around for the third debate?
- Who hurt themselves, meaning who made it less likely that they’ll win the nomination or be around for the third debate?
- And, who should just stop their campaign right now. I guess, I lied. My primary concern is for those who should just shut up and go home.
The Peak-End Rule
Now that the debates are over, other than our unconscious assessment of how presidential the candidates seem, the peak-end rule is probably the most salient in determining the overall “winner” or the person or people who helped themselves the most.
Emotional events make for strong memories. It is a truism that has been verified numerous times. When an intensely emotional event happens in our lives, what do we do? We talk about it a lot, and we think about it a lot. In short, we rehearse the memory. Rehearsal of memories helps them become a stronger more easily accessed memory. It is as simple as that.
Think back over the two debates. What are the most emotionally intense moments of the debates?
- Harris’ take down of Biden.
- Buttigieg’s contrition over his inability to have his Harvard dazzling magic solve his black-people problem.
- Warren’s insistence that treating gun violence as a public health crisis is the way to solve the gun violence problem in America in the face of Chuck “I put the ASS in asinine” Todd’s clumsy attempt to tag her as a dirty gun-grabber.
- Castro’s insistence that O’Rourke hadn’t done his homework.
- Klobuchar’s there are three women up here who have fought for reproductive rights.
- Harris’ food-fight food on the table moment.
- Castro’s adios Trump.
- Swalwell’s pass the torch barb of Biden. Confusion and chaos of multiple candidates talking over each other.
- Harris’ the microphone held in the president’s hands.
- Booker on gun violence.
Which one of those are the most emotionally intense? Harris’ busing and racism comments about Biden. That one, hands down, dominates everyone’s memory of the debates. Everything else pales. And, the more time that passes, the more dominate this impression will be.
Recent events and the events at the beginning are most easily recalled. The details occurring in the middle are most easily forgotten. When taken together it is known as the serial position effect. All things being equal, the most recent events have the most influence on our impressions.
Think Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh hearings. Blasey-Ford knocked it out of the park. Everyone thought that Kavanaugh was done, but then he got to spew his beer-soaked vehemence on us. And, white male privilege carried the day. Same thing with these debates. We all felt warm and fuzzy and hopeful after the first debate, but now that the second one is done, the first is over-shadowed.
Who helped themselves become more likely to be the nominee or at least show up in the third debate? From the first debate, Castro and Warren. From the second debate, Harris and maybe Buttigieg.
Who hurt themselves? Biden and O’Rourke. Castro laid a big injury on O’Rourke. He showed him to be unprepared. He showed him to be pandering to the basest emotions on immigration without actually addressing the problem, knowing the issues, and knowing the law. Harris showed Biden to be out of touch with the Obama coalition. In the 2020 election, you can’t be so tone deaf on race in spite of a record of championing civil rights.
Warren and Castro helped themselves the most in the first debate, but it is Harris who will benefit the most overall. Peak-end rule. She had the peak of emotional intensity, and we were feeling pretty good about the prospect of watching her do the same to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber.