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Monday, April 21, 2008

Debate analysis

The media is still buzzing about last week's Pennsylvania debate. Nico Pitney, National Editor at the Huffington Post, looked systematically at the one-on-one candidate debates to determine whether the latest contest was uglier or included more one-sided ("gotcha") questioning than those that preceded this one.

Here's his method:
I went through each of the four one-on-one contests between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, starting with CNN's debate way back on January 31, and cataloged every question, classifying them as follows:

# Policy and expertise: In this category, I put any questions about a candidate's policy preferences or legislative record, as well as questions about a candidate's experience ("Neither one of you have ever run a business, so why should either of you be elected to be CEO of the country?").

# Non-policy questions: Questions focused on politics, including electability and the role of superdelegates, as well as those about campaign management, such as releasing tax records or accepting public financing.

# Scandal questions: Questions about hot-button, non-policy issues like Jeremiah Wright or Clinton's Bosnia trip. (Note: this category does not include follow-up questions on these issues given to the opposing candidate; ie. Clinton being asked about Wright, or Obama being asked about Bosnia.)
What did Pitney find?
1) ABC's debate was in a class of its own, with more scandal and non-policy questions than any other. ABC asked the most scandal questions, and both ABC and NBC devoted only half of their questions to policy issues. The CNN debates were dramatically more policy-focused.

Here's a breakdown:

Policy Non-Policy Scandal
CNN (1/31) 31 3 1
CNN (2/21) 23 5 2
NBC 24 17 5
ABC 32 14 13

2) Barack Obama has received the overwhelming majority of scandal questions over the course of the four debates, by a margin of 17 to 4.
Interesting, eh?

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