The Two Presidential Debates

October 02, 2012

By Eric Rabe, Senior Advisor

When President Obama and Republican candidate Romney face off over the next three weeks, each time there will be two simultaneous presidential debates underway.

There will be the two candidates in front of TV cameras as a moderator fires questions and each responds and rebuts. In 2008, more than 63 million of us watched the town hall debate between Barack Obama and John McCain.

At the same time this year, millions of us will be having our own debate on social media. As the candidates speak, social media will light up with this second debate over who gives the best answer, who gets the most unfair question and who benefits most from the outcome. Who wins the social media debate will have a lot to do with who wins the TV debate and maybe who wins the presidency.

Today in the age of two screen viewing, you can count on a lot of us having a smartphone in one hand and a TV remote in the other as we watch the debates. Some cable systems like Verizon’s FiOS even make it possible to watch tweets on the TV screen while the debates are going on.

Four years ago social media was in its infancy. Although instant post-debate analysis has been a news media staple since the 1960s, neither analysis nor polling of the public has never been as instant as will be during the 2012 debates.

Last month, the Commission on Presidential debates formed The Voice Of... with AOL, Google and Yahoo! to provide information about the debates and “give people throughout the country the opportunity to share their voice.” Go to AOL (, Google ( or Yahoo! (  The Commission predicts a “massive online  audience” for the sites.

To get the campaigns’ spins on what is good and bad for Romney or Obama you can follow them on Twitter @MittRomney and @BarackObama, two feeds run by the campaigns. News media are likely to carry running blogs and Twitter streams as well.

Of course, there has already been plenty of online comment. And it’s not all completely serious. When the New York Times reported on Sept. 28 that Mitt Romney’s team has “equipped him with a series of zingers” to use in the debates, Twitter users began churning out #romenyzingers -- one liners the candidate is certainly not going to use.

More seriously, this gathering around the electronic hearth, especially in a closely contested election like this one, has enormous potential implications. Never before have we been able to have a national conversation with the immediacy and power of this one while the debates are in progress. The social media debate will influence the influencers and may in the end even determine the outcome of the election. Is that too bold a prediction? Tune in to the debates, and join me on Twitter @ericrabe. We can watch the debates together.

UPDATE (October 4th):  Here is a video from Philadelphia NBC affiliate channel ten that features Fels Senior Advisor Eric Rabe, and speaks to many of the points in the article.

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