Advertisement

Who won the presidential debate? Numbers will let us know

Who won the presidential debate? Numbers will let us know
Top of the Ticket cartoo (David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Who won the second presidential debate of the 2016 campaign? The answer to that question is the same for every political debate: the winner is the one who doesn't lose.

Three very smart journalists at the L.A. Times — Washington Bureau Chief David Lauter and political columnists Doyle McManus and Cathleen Decker — have been tasked with scoring each of the debates as they happen. They are seasoned, dispassionate observers of the political world who can think and write in the midst of clamor and tumult. On Sunday night, they rendered a unanimous judgment that Hillary Clinton won the debate.

Immediately, in the online comments section, they were attacked by Donald Trump’s partisans, who accused them of liberal bias, if not total blindness. They saw their man as dominant from start to finish. Those folks were then answered by online advocates for Clinton who said they were crazy. For them, Clinton’s calmness and command of facts made her the winner. Either side could end up being right, in the same way that flipping a coin produces a winner every time.

We all know that people are highly inclined to see their own candidate as masterful, witty, a paragon of truth and particularly good looking, while they see the opposing candidate as a lying sack of ugliness. Perception is everything. What Lauter, McManus and Decker strive to do is suppress their personal biases and score a debate on things like effectiveness of presentation, factuality of arguments, image projection and expectations met or missed. They try to impose a rational measure on a contest while taking into account the fact that most of us are reacting to the debate with emotion and preconceived notions of how we want it to come out. They are like referees at a game in which the score is not revealed until days after the competition is over. Meanwhile, they have to suffer the vilification of a screaming crowd.

Advertisement

I am inclined to think my colleagues called this one right, but we do not know that quite yet. As I said, the winner will be the one who doesn't lose. In a few days, polls will tell us how voters responded to what they saw Sunday night. If Trump gains ground, he will have won. If Clinton gains ground or simply holds her lead, she wins. It's that simple.

Ultimately, all the loyalty, enthusiasm and flung epithets of partisans does not matter, nor does the sober analysis of journalists. Only the numbers can tell us who really won.

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

Advertisement
Advertisement