Looking Back at the Senate Race: It Was Never About The Debate

Fetterman and Oz

For as excited as the political class was on October 25 to see Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz meet on the debate stage, one wonders whether it was worth all the expended energy.

Headed into the 60-minute fray, Fetterman seemed to be in control of the race with a polling lead of anywhere between 2-8 points. After the debate that showed signs of Fetterman’s post-stroke recovery, Oz appeared to be right back in the thick of things, including polls that showed the celebrity doctor in the lead.

Final tally – Fetterman 50.9, Oz 46.6 out of 5.29 million votes cast.

What did we miss?

Turns out, it was nothing as the key data was in front of us all along.

Favorability rating.

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the candidates? Oz was never able to make those positive connections with the Keystone State populace, while Fetterman attempted to portray everyman with his hooded sweatshirt and shorts look.

Civiqs, an Oakland, Calif. online polling and analytics company, tracked the two candidates’ ratings among registered voters. According to an article in the Daily Kos, “Oz’s unfavorables had been steadily declining among voters from an abysmal 63% in May to a still-high 55% by late October. But notably, that steady descent essentially froze in place on Oct. 25, the day after the debate, and then flat-lined at 55% for the remainder of the race. Oz’s favorables followed suit, freezing at 33% following the debate after a lengthy period of slow-but-steady improvement.”

Graph showing Oz

Meanwhile, Fetterman’s favorability rating effectively flat-lined after the debate at 48% even, a slight improvement from before the event when he was 2 points underwater at 47% — 49%.

Graph showing that Fettermans favorables and unfavorable both ticked up over the course of the race, tracking very closely together. Just a couple days before the race he was 2 points underwater 47%-49%. After the debate, his favorables locked in at 48% all.

“American politics has changed,” political analyst and veteran Iowa-based journalist David Yepsen told NPR in September. “Campaigns have changed. And with that, the role of debates has changed.”

The modern debate era began in 1960 when Sen. John F. Kennedy squared off against Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The national broadcast of the series of debates became must-see TV.

A longstanding tradition was born out of the Kennedy-Nixon debates: the use of journalists as moderators and questioners for the event.

In the decades to follow, the idea took hold that candidates for both federal and statewide offices were expected to debate.

To not do so would hurt a campaign. Now though, as with so much in campaigns and elections, even that long held truism is being tested.

Yepsen, who has also served as a debate moderator on the presidential level and for local offices, explained these days campaigns often see more risk than reward in debating.

“For for many candidates, there’s just no upside to this and it’s not worth the risk of making a mistake,” he says, “a mistake that can then be magnified and amplified for days (or longer) on social media.”

Yepsen added, “It’s a safer political move to do your campaign with paid media and social media and door knocking.”was 

9 Responses

  1. The decision is between a woman and her doctor and A LOCAL POLITICIAN. What did you miss? Women who refuse to be second rate citizens and want bodily autonomy.

  2. Dr Oz did something few do. He came to another country and learned a language and amassed 10 homes and 100 million! Good for him. The problem was he started at the top in politics and he is now working his way to the bottom! He had a fat checkbook and no experience and listened to political operatives tell him stupid responses like his local control over abortion. That was lame and pathetic and unsatisfactory to the public. The vicious and cruel Republican attacks over a stroke did not help the campaign. Other than rabid Republicans no one wanted to contemplate the human suffering of a stroke. I saw my grandmother have one and you never forget it. Clearly, Fetterman can push a button to vote on a law in the Senate and can speak and interact so all is well because in the final analysis this is only a government job. The bitter partisans mocking his health matters was a sad commentary on humanity because there for the grace of God go the rest of us.

  3. Oz and Mastriano/Ding Dong Doug were awful candidates from the start. Why did Oz think it was ok to saunter over from New Jersey and run for office in PA? That is where he lost. Yes, McCormick moved back to PA, but he was at least born and raised here.

    Fetterman will be a Republican target for the next 6 years and he better figure how to perform as a US Senator. Lamb would have been the better general election candidate and Oz never would have stood a chance.

    Shapiro was just far superior to DDD, The Insurrectionist and I believe he will be a much better governor than Wolf ever was.

  4. Correct. Brain damaged voters voted for a brain damaged senator. They wanted their representative, and they got him!

    Ridiculous.

    1. I bet you wished you lived in Georgia and could vote for brain damaged Herschel Walker.

      Dave Chappelle described Herschel as “observably stupid”

    2. The vast amount of brain damaged citizens of PA voted Republican. Most Republicans voted on the advice of their Orange Hero.
      If that isn’t brain damage, I don’t know what is!

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