For Paul Ryan, it was the chance to capitalize on Mitt Romney’s widely praised first debate strength.
For Joe Biden, it was the chance to provide the vigor that Barack Obama was criticized for lacking during the first debate.
Both candidates took to the first and only vice presidential debate Oct. 11 with enthusiasm, but Michigan State University assistant professor in political science Matt Grossmann said the debate probably mattered very little in the deciding election results.
(See debate highlights: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/oct/12/us-election-2012-biden-ryan-video)
“Most previous vice presidential picks have not made a large difference in election outcomes or the poll standing of the candidates,” Grossmann said in an email. “People are voting for the president, not the vice president.”
Some moments during the debate received more play in the media, likely leading to wider exposure and potentially more influence on voters. For example, Biden generated some controversy with his response to Ryan’s criticism of Obama’s handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
“We were not told they wanted more security,” Biden said. “We did not know they wanted more security.”
Republicans later jumped on this statement as evidence the Obama administration was out of touch with the security situation in Libya.
In discussing another area of foreign policy, Biden called Ryan’s statements “a bunch of malarkey.”
Ryan was criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of the sanctions on Iran, and argued that the U.S. should not be cutting defense spending because “It makes us look weak, and when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us.”
Biden responded that “not a single thing he said was accurate,” arguing that Romney and Ryan’s proposed policies did not line up with his attacks on the administration.
But even though these statements generated some media buzz, Grossmann said the vice presidential debate’s impact on the election will be negligible.
“No previous vice presidential debate has had a significant impact on the poll standing of the candidates or election results,” he said.
The only arena in which the vice presidential candidate can have some impact is in their home state, he said.
“There is some evidence that the VP candidate can make a difference in their home state,” Grossmann said. “We have seen Wisconsin become more of a swing state this year, in part as a result of the Ryan pick.”
English senior Melissa Anderson said she is not basing her presidential vote this year on the vice presidential candidate.
“To me, you don’t vote for a VP, you vote for a president. The VP is just supposed to be there,” she said. “It doesn’t influence my vote, because the VP really doesn’t have any power unless the president dies.”
While she has no strong feelings about either Ryan or Biden, Anderson said a particularly bad vice presidential choice can push her away from a candidate.
“I think it depends on who you pick as your VP. Because Sarah Palin, obviously, wasn’t a good VP to pick,” she said. “(Ryan is) a little bit more intelligible about real issues.”