There’s a general rule of political debates: people tend to think their preferred candidate won. A debater has to be really dreadful for his/her own supporters to concede he/she made a bad showing.
When you think about it, this should be no surprise at all. We filter our perceptions through our preconceived notions, and objectivity is a difficult although worthwhile goal.
But there’s more going on than that in the debates. We prefer a certain candidate because we like his/her mind and believe he/she (boy, this gender neutral stuff is tedious) will act in ways that will benefit us more than the other candidate will. It’s not arbitrary.
In the debates we see words and behavior and reasoning that is congruent with this. If we like McCain’s toughness on foreign policy, or his attitude towards the troops, we are not going to see something different in the debates. If we prefer direct answers to circumlocutions, we are going to favor McCain as well. If we think taxes should be raised on the very rich, Obama’s saying he would do so seems like an excellent point for him to make. And so on and so forth.
It’s those pesky undecideds who are the mystery. Who are they, anyway? In a year when the two candidates are somewhat similar, I suppose it might be understandable to be undecided at this point. But this year it seems almost inconceivable.
And even those voters who are undecided because they dislike things about both candidates are puzzling (although more understandable) to me. Yes, there’s plenty to dislike, but it’s irrelevant. One nearly always has to choose between the lesser of two evils in the dirty business of politics.
But choice is necessary, and the differences are so stark this year that to me the better man is glaringly obvious. Just as it’s obvious to me that McCain cleaned Obama’s clocks in the debate.
[NOTE: I've never understand why the debates are considered so important. This was true even back when I was a liberal Democrat. Yes, debates do demonstrate two things about a Presidential hopeful: how fast he/she is verbally, and how clear in communicating thoughts without a script. These things matter. But they matter far less than the ability to make the sort of decisions a President actually faces when serving. That's a different skill than verbal agility. Yes, there may be some overlap, but often the smooth talker is not the person better at working with people, evaluating advice, and making the best choice for action.]
[ADDENDUM: And I was just thinking this very thing myself: "Ultimately it is the voters' wisdom that will be tested in the election." But maybe that's always true.]