In the Second Presidential Debate, I thought that the choice of questions was pretty even-handed. I counted 5 questions that in my opinion a priori favored President Obama: 3. Mr. Romney’s tax plan; 4. Female wages; 5. Romney as Bush; 7. Immigration; and 10. Outsourcing.
I counted at least 3 questions that favored Romney – 2. Secretary Chu and gas prices; 6. Not optimistic, living is expensive; and 8. Benghazi – though Ann Althouse thought that Q6 favored Obama because it was an invitation to emote. In addition, it could be argued that Q1 on employment at graduation and Q11 on misperceptions of the candidates favored Romney more than Obama, at least before one heard the answers. The question on assault weapons, though it was asked from a liberal perspective, was pretty innocuous for either side.
These assignments of political valences are far from clear. I would expect most people who watched the debate to disagree with me on at least 2 or 3 of my classifications. And, of course, some questions, such as the Romney as Bush one actually seemed to help Romney rather than Obama. But the conclusion would still seem robust: the questions asked by the audience were roughly balanced.
While the audience questions were fair, I thought that Candy Crowley did a poor job of keeping her own biases out of the debate, chiefly in her allocation of speaking time. Leaving aside her offering of an opinion on Benghazi, she quite consistently allowed Obama to make the last speech on questions, leading to a 3-minute gap in time allotted in favor of Obama (according to Politico). That means she gave 8% more time to Obama. And Romney was trying harder than Obama to get in the last word.
Romney was allowed to make the last speech only on question 3 (his tax plans) and question 6 (from the man who was worried about expenses and not optimistic). Obama was given the last speech on 8 questions (speeches of 169-406 words), though on question 10 on outsourcing, after Obama’s 169-word final speech Romney was allowed to say 10 substantive words (“Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.”).
One question was hard to assign—question 8 on Benghazi—because though Obama made the last speech, Romney had the floor at the end, which he used to engage in banter with Obama. For that reason, on balance I would assign the last speech on question 8 to Romney. That would mean that Obama was allowed to make the last speech on 8 questions, while Romney was allowed to make the last speech on only 3 questions.
QUESTIONS ASKED (with most major followups included)
1. Employment on graduation: Romney then Obama; followup: Romney then Obama
2. Secretary Chu and Gas Prices: Obama then Romney; followup: Obama then Romney; 2d followup: Obama
3. Romney’s tax plans, deductions & credits: Romney then Obama then Romney; followup to Obama; 2d followup to Romney
4. Female wages: Obama then Romney then Obama
5. Romney like Bush: Romney then Obama
6. Not optimistic, expensive prices: Obama then Romney
7. Immigration: Romney then Obama
8. Benghazi: Obama then Romney; followup: Obama then Romney
9. Assault weapons: Obama then Romney; followup: Romney then Obama
10. Outsourcing: Romney then Obama; followup: Romney then Obama
11. Misperception about candidate: Romney then Obama
Until the Presidential debate commission diversifies the moderators, one can expect similar problems with unconscious favoritism, tending unfortunately in one direction.