George W. Bush: Debate Champion

Kevin Drum takes a look at the before and after debate polls in 1960 and 1976-2000 and finds the normal “bounce” is tiny: between 1% and 6%, with a mode of 3%. The one exception: Bush’s 15 point explosion in 2000.

Kevin argues that, “despite conventional wisdom, this is not because Gore was an awful debater. He’s actually pretty good. But Bush was apparently much, much better.” He concludes that, “George Bush is the intergalactic champion of presidential debates. John Kerry has his work cut out for him.”

I agree that, judged by public reaction, Bush is a better debater (and public speaker, for that matter) than most of us give him credit for. With a couple of notable exceptions, I’ve found most of Bush’s speeches to be cringe-worthy, even though I like the guy and support many of his policies. But he clearly connects well with “regular people.”

As I note in Kevin’s comment section, though, I wonder how much of the debate “bounce” was Bush and how much was Darrell Hammond. In all fairness to Gore, I think a lot of the bounce came from the SNL sendup rather than the debate itself. Bush established that he wasn’t the idiot people claimed he was, but he was pretty lackluster in the first debate. Gore’s sighing and whatnot were annoying and he came across as a jerk. But the SNL satire of the debates crystalized in people’s minds a much starker image of the two. The SNL “Bush” was dumber than the real one, but still congenial. The SNL “Gore” was a pompous ass.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dodd says:

    It’s really been quite amusing the last week or so watching the Left Wing Opposition play this game of trying to raise expectations for Bush and lower them for Kerry – a complete reversal of their beloved Bush=moron, Kerry=intellectual mindset.

  2. James, your theory assumes people watched SNL then. I’m guessing Leno and Letterman may have been more influential.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Sean: Could well be. I wasn’t an SNL fan at the time but caught wind of the political satire and watched the openers during that period.

  4. carpeicthus says:

    It was a factor; remember that the entire SNL skit was played on prime time on the various NBC stations, and became somewhat of a phenomenon.