Departmental Papers (ASC)

Document Type

Book Chapter

Date of this Version

January 1993

Publication Source

The Finish Line: Covering the Campaign's Final Days

Start Page


Last Page



During the second presidential debate at the University of Richmond, Va., on Oct. 15, an audience member remarked that the "amount of time the candidates have spent trashing their opponents' character is depressingly large." President Bush responded by noting that "character is part of being president," and he observed that "I think the first negative campaign run in this election was by Gov. Clinton, and I'm not going to sit there and be a punching bag."

As the president spoke, across town at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) a panel of 104 randomly selected undecided and weakly committed voters used hand-held electronic devices to dial in their response to this moment of the debate. A computer instantly processed the evaluations of each voter and plotted the average on a graph. The verdict: the panel did not like what the president was saying. As Bush tried to defend his conduct in the campaign, the summary graph dipped sharply below the neutral midpoint of the scale and remained there while he spoke on this topic.


NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Michael X. Delli Carpini was affiliated with Columbia University. Currently, January 2008, he is a faculty member of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsyvlania.



Date Posted: 09 January 2008