Have The Debates Made A Difference? - Paycheck

Have The Debates Made A Difference?

Debates between candidates for Vice President have rarely made big news, much less changed the course of the election.  Even Democrat Lloyd Bentsen’s famous putdown of his youthful Republican opponent decades ago was followed a few weeks later by a forty-state GOP landslide.

Nonetheless, in a nation fascinated by this year’s presidential contest, last week’s Vice Presidential debate sparked some real interest—and for all we know, might prove to be the last debate of the season, since at least one of the remaining Presidential debates has been canceled because of concerns about Covid-19.

Conversations with a dozen voters in Beaver Falls, once a heavily Democratic industrial town but now one leaning toward the GOP, largely drive home two points:  interest in the election runs high and that most voters have long since made up their minds.

Mike, a manager at a large retail chain, might have captured the majority opinion as he said “I sort of like Trump, and mostly like what he’s done, and I didn’t see anything to change that.” 

Rachel, a staff member at nearby Geneva College, was succinct: “Mike Pence is a pro-life hero, and that’s all I need to know.”

Equally un-persuaded was Lizanne, whose take was “I tuned in to it one hundred percent for Biden and Harris, and that’s what I put down in the ballot I mailed in today.” 

One still-undecided voter was Sandy, now mostly retired but working part-time as a cashier, whose take was “I’m still not sure about my vote, but that Mike Pence reminded me of every boss I ever had who wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say because I was a woman.”

The Green New Deal, mentioned repeatedly in the debate, did not come up as much I expected a few miles from a massive ethane cracking plant and on the edge of the Marcellus Shale fracking boom.  Joe, of Monaca, brought it up as part of a take that also mentioned socialism and gun rights, hinting at what may be the important political conclusion about the Green New Deal:  as with taxes, health care, firearms, and abortion, attitudes on environmental issues are already baked into the cake of electoral politics.

The energy industry has been a factor in Pennsylvania’s economy since coal was first mined here before the American Revolution, and views on energy and the environment have helped reshape politics in much of Pennsylvania’s old industrial and mining belts—but it seems all but certain that very few votes are left to be moved on that topic.    

Michael O'Connell

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