By Laura Smith
October 4, 2008
On October 2, vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin went head to head in the first and only vice presidential debates of the year. Held at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the two politicians squared off regarding issues such as foreign policy, the environment, gay marriage and the War in Iraq.
Most expert analysts agreed that Biden provided more specific responses than Palin. However, they also concurred that Palin gave feisty and energetic responses that would be more likely to appeal to the Republican demographic that McCain hoped to reach.
Both Palin and Biden agreed with the presidential nominees with whom they are running with on issues regarding the economy, energy, and conflict in the Middle East.
So what did the Elon University community think about the debates? In a poll, 230 Elon students and faculty were asked who they believed dominated the televised debates. There were 65 people who did not watch or had no comment, 85 said Biden won, 53 said Palin won and 27 felt that it was a tie.
Allie Rodgers, a freshman from Connecticut, felt as though Biden was the dominant of the two debaters.
“Palin beat around the bush,” she said. “Biden had more information to back up her answers.”
Patrick Ma, a freshman from Maryland, agreed with Rodgers.
“Biden by far because Palin avoided the first three questions,” he said. “Biden at least kinda touched on the questions… He beat around the bush a little but too, but he did a better job.”
Nim Batchelor, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, felt the same way about Biden.
“I would certainly think that Joe Biden won,” he said. “As best I could tell, Biden was trying to attack McCain and trying to link the McCain Palin ticket to the existing administration of George Bush and I think he succeeded in doing that.”
He felt differently about Sarah Palin though. “In terms of persuading people, I think she still showed up somewhat lacking,” he said.
Ann Cahill, Philosophy Department Chair, felt as though the structure of these types of debates makes it hard to predict a winner or loser.
“I’m struck by how we frame these debates in terms of winning or losing with nothing about their structure actually sets up for defeat or loss,” she said. It seems to me because there’s so little direct interaction between the candidates as they speak, that it’s in some ways two parallel narratives that don’t have a lot to do with each other.”
She felt as though this was a problem with Palin. “Sarah Palin did this very explicitly when she over and over refused to answer certain questions,” Cahill said. “The obvious implications of this seemed to me that she was not capable of answering those questions.”
“She showed herself to be much better at the art of debating as it is framed in this television age,” Cahill added. “It didn’t seemed to me that she showed any improvement in a detailed grasp of the issues involved.”
Like many others polled, Cahill thought Biden did a better job at the debates.
“I thought Joe Biden did a great job of being challenging to Governor Palin without running the risk of either being condescending or potentially lacking in chivalry,” she said. “It seemed to me that Joe Biden just had a lot more detail. He had a lot more specifics in his answers; he was much more compelling in his argumentation.”
Religious Studies Department Chair Jeffrey Pugh also agreed with the students and faculty.
“My initial reaction was that it was a draw, but then as I reflected on it I guess I would have to say Biden won,” he said. “Palin kept going back to talking points.”
“As the night war on, I thought Biden started out a little ponderous but then the substance started emerging more and more,” Pugh continued.
“I don’t think the debates changed anybody’s mind about who they are going to vote for.”