Did Joe Biden Come to Obama’s Rescue?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 12 2012 3:45 PM

Did Joe Biden Come to Obama’s Rescue?

The Slate/SurveyMonkey snap poll survey the battle of the veeps.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Republican vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) participate in the vice presidential debate.
Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan at Thursday's debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats got their catharsis Thursday night as Vice President Joe Biden grabbed Paul Ryan by the lapels, making the points President Obama sidestepped last week and serving them up with a dollop of friendly condescension. A keen but muted Ryan couldn’t match all that personality. But did he have to? The latest Slate/SurveyMonkey snap poll gauges what viewers thought of each candidate’s performance—and assesses whether any of it will matter in November. We posted our questions as soon as the debate finished and gathered responses until 9 a.m. Eastern this morning. (Information on respondents is available here. More information about SurveyMonkey Audience is here.)

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Our first survey question got straight to the point: “Who do you think won the debate, Paul Ryan or Joe Biden?” Biden emerged as the clear victor, capturing 48 percent of the vote to his opponent’s 29.1 percent. Just under 13 percent declared the showdown a tie, and 10.3 percent weren’t sure.

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Overall, survey takers found Uncle Joe slightly more convincing than the polite but pointed Ryan. A plurality of 29.3 percent pronounced Biden “very effective,” 27.4 percent called him “somewhat effective,” and 20.1 chose “extremely effective.” Meanwhile, 26.3 percent of viewers rated the GOP running mate “very effective,” another 26.3 termed him “somewhat effective,” and a slim 10.6 percent gave him the “extremely effective” score. 

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Low expectations seem to have offered the vice president a boost. “Did Joe Biden perform better or worse in the debate than you expected?” we asked. And here Biden’s reputation as a gaffe-prone motormouth may have come into play: A combined 42 percent of survey takers were surprised by how well Biden performed. Just under 31 percent reported that the veep fulfilled their predictions, and around 17 percent said he disappointed them.

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Ryan, on the other hand, delivered a solid showing—not stellar but good all the same. The largest group of respondents, 43 percent, said he basically conformed to their expectations, neither overwhelming the floor with policy brilliance nor making Martha Raddatz wince. Around 37 percent deemed Ryan better than they thought he’d be. Just over one-fifth described him as worse.

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But, as we mentioned earlier, a gratifying night for the left doesn’t always translate into a bad night for the right, no matter how good it feels. When we filtered our results to isolate undecided voters, we saw very little movement in either direction. For starters, a majority of the bet-hedging respondents—56.3 percent—could not even say whether Ryan or Biden had won the debate.  

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Furthermore, when we asked, “Based on Joe Biden’s debate performance tonight, were you persuaded to vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden?” only 1 percent of our fence-sitting survey takers said yes. Ryan hardly fared better: Just 4 percent of undecided voters claimed he had pushed them closer to casting a Republican ballot.

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Joe Biden took his supporters on an exhilarating ride last night, but in the places it matters, the election is still in gridlock.

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