Judge: Andy Hume
Scores: Biden 80 | Palin 73
In my view a clear win for Biden, who was the stronger of the two speakers on most criteria.
The early stages of the debate were reasonably even but as the focus shifted to foreign policy Biden began to pull ahead. His advantage was clearest in terms of content; he seemed to display a deeper understanding of the issues than Sarah Palin and his responses were more assured and his arguments more nuanced than his opponent.
Biden’s answers were often more structured; on several occasions he went so far as to numerically list his arguments, or reasons for his position. This wasn’t necessarily attractive from a stylistic point of view but had the benefit of clarity, and in this case helped reinforce the impression of a speaker on top of his brief. Palin’s answers tended to be less focused and occasionally rambling.
Both speakers were frequently guilty of failing to answer the questions put to them and shifting onto their prepared material instead. Biden was a little less culpable in this regard, though, and when he did sidestep the question he tended to do so with a degree of subtlety. Palin did not do so quite as artfully, and it would have been obvious even to the casual observer when she was changing the subject; at one point she even admitted that she was not going to answer the question in the way the moderator might wish.
The clash of styles was one of the more interesting aspects of the debate. Biden came across as reasonably relaxed and confident but his delivery was also less engaging and occasionally struck me as wooden. Palin, by contrast, was attempting to be less formal, with frequent use of folksy language (“Joe Sixpack”, “darn right” and so on) and, quite noticeably, lots of smiling and even the occasional wink to camera.
Indeed, she spoke directly into the camera for the most part, whereas Biden often seemed to address the moderator, and for me this made her more persuasive and engaging than her opponent, particularly in the early stages where the candidates were discussing the credit crunch and its effect on ordinary Americans; at times, Biden seemed to be talking to the auditorium, but Palin was talking to us. As the questions shifted to foreign policy issues, though, she referred to her notes more frequently, her demeanour became less assured, and Biden’s perceived gravitas more persuasive.
Finally, Biden’s rebuttal was more persuasive throughout. Several times he directly refuted points made by his opponent, defended or ‘clarified’ the ticket’s position when attacked by Palin, and pointed out when she was failing to answer the question put to her. This was seen most effectively when he listed the McCain-Palin position on foreign policy issues like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel and repeatedly said that we hadn’t heard specifics of how their approach would differ from that of the current administration. Palin was able to name only one example in response, Biden won the point, and we were left with the impression that his side were in favour of change and the other side were defending the status quo – which was, of course, exactly what he wanted.