Personally, I did not learn much about either candidate that I did not know before watching the third and final presidential debate. There's one minor exception: I never knew of John McCain's propensity to mimic Ronald Reagan's technique of using the story of one American's life (in McCain's case, Joe the Plumber; in President Reagan's case, Mother Hale and many others) to make political points.
I did, however, learn a lot about Senator McCain's impact on undecided women voters during the debate. I did so, thanks to the use of so-called Perception Analyzers, or digital devices that allow voters viewing an event to register their likes and dislikes in real time.
The Columbus Dispatch reports on one such group convened in its hometown made up of 50 undecided female voters who registered the following opinions:
One of the most striking findings of the evening: The undecided voters displayed an open distaste whenever the candidates' rhetoric turned negative.
The dials turned to virtually their lowest point of the evening when McCain criticized Obama for not condemning U.S. Rep. John Lewis' comparison of McCain and running mate Sarah Palin's campaign rallies to the era of one-time segregationist Gov. George Wallace of Alabama.
And when McCain challenged Obama on the Illinois senator's connections with former Weather Underground leader William Ayers and the group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the voters' ratings barely budged above 50.
What's interesting to me is that voters, particularly women, have always told pollsters they are turned more off than on by negative campaigning. But this year, they may actually base their votes, in part, on who's going more negative and by voting for the other guy.
On the other hand, when Obama talked about his desire to find common ground on the issue of abortion, the dials shot up to more than 80. McCain's ratings peaked when he talked about health care and stressed the need for energy independence and offshore drilling.
Overall, this group found Obama's performance more appealing:
The result? A major win for Democrat Barack Obama. Seventy-one percent of these undecided voters thought Obama did better in addressing the issues important to them, while only 9 percent felt that way about Republican John McCain.
McCain may have struck his last blow in the third debate in turning off women swing voters. If so, negative campaigning may fall out of favor for the foreseeable future, as will campaigning on lower taxes (McCain's main theme of the debate, while women swing voters wanted more talk about healthcare and education).
By Bonnie Erbe