- October 25th, 2012
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CBC Columnist Neil Macdonald wrote an interesting column about the impact of the U.S Presidential Debates on the outcome of the election that is happening in the next couple of weeks. According to Macdonald, the President’s lackluster performance is bad news for how he will fare on polling day.
While Mr Macdonald makes some pretty interesting points, he completely misses the boat with respect to the debates: they don’t matter in terms of swaying people’s vote. All through the debates, it has been pointed out repeatedly by many people that, at the late stage of this campaign, the proportion of the ‘undecided’ in this election is extremely small. People already have decided who they’re going to vote for. The task for the last weeks up to election day will be getting out the vote.
I contend that Obama could have wiped the floor with Romney: everything from the 47% comment (a hari kari comment if I’ve ever heard one), his position on Iraq and his exceptionally wooden performance in debate #2. Further, I suspect that Obama held back on the debates, especially the first one. The fact that Obama never used Romney’s ’47% comment’ in the first debate is proof enough. Any first year university debater would have been able to expand upon that one quote to destroy Romney. They would have had to sweep up his ashes after that debate, the burn would have been that big.
The reason I believe that Obama held back was to energize his organization. If he had won and the polls showed him with a strong lead, his supporters may decide to stay home content with the notion that Obama was a shoe-in. Now that it’s a horse race, everybody believes that the vote they cast will be a make-or-break for Obama’s re-election. People are scared and fear is a tremendous motivator.
And to get all ancient on you, Sun Tzu would also agree that to motivate your troops, you need to ‘burn the boats’ after you make your landing invasion and create a ‘killing ground’. On Killing Ground, your army has nothing left to lose. With his life on the line, a soldier will fight his hardest, take the most risks, and be at his most dangerous. Sun Tsu counsels that you should intentionallly place your troops on killing ground. The only way home is through victory.
Like Sun Tzu, the Obama campaign realizes that it is not the leadership that gets presidents elected, it is the soldier/campaigner in the trenches.
I remember the Green Party Campaign of 2004 where we needed to garner 2% of the vote to be eligible for public funding. Had our supporters thought that this would be easy or a sure thing, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the vote out that we did. Because we had an uncertain yet specific goal, we were energized to go to extraordinary lengths to win, from the grassroots to the leadership at the top.
And when I was the Alberta Organizer, I was also asked to be the candidate for Calgary Center North despite the fact that when the election was called, I would be forced to support the 27 other Alberta campaigns to the detriment of my own. However, my campaign team told me, on writ drop, that it was no longer my job to get elected, it was theirs.
To sum up, by Obama’s intentional lacklustre performance in the debates, he has created a situation where his victory is no longer assured. This will motivate his campaign organization to extra effort, instead of taking his win as foregone conclusion. This is especially necessary in the final weeks of the campaign in an election where the majority of people have already decided who they’re going to vote for.