Another presidential debate has passed... followed by another round of post-debate analysis in the media. Who won? Who lost? Who evacuated the premisis within seconds of the end of the final question?
At one point last night, Fox News declared John McCain the winner of the debate by an 86 to 12% margin, which was odd since every other news organization was declaring Barack Obama the winner based on instant polling conducted in the minutes immediately after the debate. I find those immediate polls fascinating because they represent the first wave of opinions, which often change.
I'm sure there are scholarly terms for this sort of thing, but I've never studied it. What follows is just my theory of how peoples opinios are shaped. We are social creatures, and our opinions are often swayed accordingly - though not nesisarily appropriately.
The first wave of opinion is based on individual interperatation of the thing itself: in this case, a presidential debate. Joe Sikspaque from Waugh Alabama is a McCain supporter (well, he's voting for the white guy, anyway). He watched the debate and hooted 'n hollered in approval each time McCain finished speaking. At the end of the debate, he thought McCain kicked Barack Obama's ass. Joe's vote wasn't counted in the Fox News text-your-vote poll, however, because the candidates were listed by name rather than political party or skin color. Sho' nuff, he wad gunna vote 'gainst the black guy in that thar poll.
The second wave of opinion is based on group dynamics. Family, friends, collegues, etc. Since we tend to surround ourselves with people like ourselves, their views tend to be a reflection of our own. Joe Sikspaque's phone rang. It's his neighbor, Jane, a mother with a talent for spitting a loogie great distances. Everyone calls her Hocky, for obvious reasons. Hocky is a huge fan of Sarah Palin, who, she believes to be a spitter as well. Joe and Hocky agree that the white guy won the debate.
The third wave of opinion is based on urgency, which brings me back to Joe and Hocky in Alabama. It's worth noting that Hocky's husband Bill works with Joe at a car dealership in Montgomery. Neither of them have been able to sell even a single car since early September. In fact, they haven't even seen a customer in over a week. Joe doesn't know that he and his friend Bill are going to lose their jobs tomorrow.
How will losing his job affect Joe's vote? I doubt that even Joe Knows - but tomorrow, after Joe and Bill are laid off, they'll meet Hocky at their neighborhood bar to try and figure out what to do. In the background, the news will be on a big screen TV. Joe and Bill will worry about finding new jobs. Hocky will worry about health care for her kids. At that moment, negative campaigning on TV won't be worth a damn.
The above may read as a harsh judgment of Republicans. Really, I mean it as a harsh judgment of racists, be they Republican, Democrat or other. Racism is the true unknown in this election. Further complicating the matter is the electoral college. We talk as if there will be 'an' election on November 4th, but we're actually having fifty one elections: fifty states plus D.C.
The degree to which racism will affect the outcome varies from state to state, and from demographic to demographic within each state. Try predicting THAT with any degree of accuracy. Many things can be polled. Racism isn't one of them.