Saturday, October 13, 2012

Know Thyself, Know Thine Audience: Notes on a Lethargic Left

Twitter conversations (especially among right-leaning observers) after the vice presidential debate focused on Biden's demeanor and outright laughter during the debate. Although normally everything counts when campaigning, the twitterverse is just wrong here. Biden's debate performance and the accompanying twitter reaction by the Obama social media team created a meaningful shift in apathy among democratic voters.

First, not a stunningly large crowd watched the vice presidential debate. Approximately 51 million Americans watched at least part of the debate last week--18 million less than the 2008 debate and almost 7 million less than the 1984 debate (the most watched VP debates since its televised inception). Read more about the viewership and demographics HERE .

Secondly, voters vote for the top of the ticket; vice presidential candidates may impact a race, but only on the margins. Vice presidential candidates need only show that they are competent to assume the presidency--a burden that really only applied to Ryan because of his lesser known status.

So, what was the point? Why did Biden perform the way he did (and his actions were, I argue, a deliberate performance)?  Hope. You've got to give your base hope (as Harvey Milk so famously said)--especially when you're a democrat. Democratic voters are much less likely to turnout than republican voters and this election (like all elections) will be determined almost entirely on turnout.

The timbre of the left has grown increasingly forlorn after Obama's abysmal debate performance and continued voter suppression efforts in republican controlled state legislatures--Biden's performance changed that.  Biden's performance was intentionally snarky, intentionally jarring to awaken the democratic base that must run to the polls if Obama is to maintain any chance at winning reelection. Biden's performance worked.

Although the VP debate generated considerably less tweets than the presidential debate (see ARTICLE), Biden was the center of discussion. His countenance and countless interruptions (approximately 81 in all) dominated conversation and have re-energized the left. The Obama campaign's decision to promote #malarkey on Twitter during the debate was an adept one. Obama cannot claim the same candor and energy that Biden is known for, but Obama can benefit from a new counter narrative that Biden began last week.

Biden knew who he was--an already well defined candidate known for his often erratic campaign behavior--and he knew his audience--a lethargic left.The Obama campaign knew these things as well and built a smart social media strategy around them last week. For Biden's sake, let's hope it worked.


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