Debates: Low Expectations Are A Blessing

By MARK PENN, US debates expert
Published April 12, 2010

Ten years ago, the American presidential race was shaped by a debate that pitted the successor to a popular president against a self-described moderate Republican running on “compassionate conservatism”.

In those debates, George W. Bush managed to sell himself as Clinton’s logical heir, while Vice President Al Gore – despite his vast experience and policy bona fides – came off as a stereotypical tax-and-spend liberal.

Against all odds, Bush came out on top.

Bush won those debates not thanks to his verbal acuity or grasp of the issues, but because he outperformed the public’s expectations by seeming just knowledgeable enough on policy and foreign affairs.

As we have seen time and time again in the US, and as Britain will soon learn, it is the candidate that beats his own expectations who will win the debate.

Going into a debate, low expectations are a blessing.

Today, Britain’s first presidential-style debates are running on some fairly similar tracks.

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