Michael Barone, October 12, 2012 at 12:00 am
Joe Biden appealed to Democratic partisans, firing them up by attacking and, even more often, smirking at Paul Ryan’s arguments. But smirks only work when your audience starts off agreeing with you. That would be the case with strong Democratic partisans, but it’s not at all that clear that it appeals to Independents, or to those who are undecided or moveable. He was trying to dismiss Ryan’s arguments as ridiculous, in line with Democratic talking points that no rational person could possibly agree with him, but I think that only works with people who are already convinced. He may have increased Democratic voters’ enthusiasm—down in the dumps after Barack Obama’s performance eight days ago—but he didn’t do much in the way of converting those who are not already converted.
I was struck by the difference between the generational and gender appeal of the two candidates. The dial groups showed that Ryan did better with women than with men—in vivid contrast with the usual partisan patterns. Biden talked strongly about the need to keep Social Security and Medicare as “guaranteed” programs—the kind of thing that has tended over the years to older voters over the years (though they have tended to favor John McCain or Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). But I think that Ryan’s argument that we need to reform these programs in order to make them available to people currently under 55. Similarly, Biden’s frequent dismissals of Ryan’s and Romney’s positions as “malarkey” may resonate with people of Biden’s generation—but who under age 40 uses the word “malarkey” any more? And, similarly once again, moderator Martha Raddatz’s question about abortion, inviting Biden to appeal to the issue that supposedly “women” care about more than any other, struck a tinny note as young voters are not afraid that abortion will somehow be suddenly criminalized by the Supreme Court, as Biden suggested it would although a reversal of Roe v. Wade would only send the issue to the states, few if any of which would vote to criminalize abortion.