"Biden appeared to have the better arguments"

A Zurich University media expert says the Swiss identify with Biden's answers from the debate Keystone

Debates between United States vice presidential candidates rarely generate as much interest as Thursday's showdown between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

This content was published on October 3, 2008 minutes

But while American audiences may not have taken away much to change their vote, a Zurich University media expert says Swiss audiences would have identified more with Biden, a Democratic Senator.

In an interview with swissinfo, Thomas Hanitzsch said Biden generally gave answers more pleasing to Swiss ears on global warming, foreign policy and the financial crisis in his debate with Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska.

Early polls conducted by US networks showed a slight majority of viewers believed that Biden had won the debate. They also found that Palin had performed better than expected.

swissinfo: What was your overall impression of the debate?

Thomas Hanitzsch: My general impression was that Joe Biden appeared to have the better arguments. He also was obviously trying to appear modest.

Palin did a surprisingly good job mostly because she was much better than most had anticipated. Altogether, though, the debate will have a very minor, if any, effect on the election.

swissinfo: Palin has often portrayed herself as a folksy girl and said things like "doggonit" and "Say it ain't so, Joe" during the debate. How does that image come across in Switzerland?

T.H.: Most Swiss people aren't so familiar with US politics in this respect, but the Swiss value system and its culture are very different from the US. The things she does to try to appear like a "hockey mom" don't really play out because the cultural context is so different.

swissinfo: One of the things that made the debate "must-see TV" in America was the question over whether either candidate would make a campaign-ending blunder. Did you see anything?

T.H.: I think many thought Palin might talk too much about things that she didn't understand or that Biden would appear arrogant. Listening to much of what Palin said, I had a strong feeling that she had been through very intensive training.

swissinfo: Whenever a man and a woman candidate debate in the United States, there seems to be a sexist subtext that the candidates must be careful to avoid. Did that come into play last night?

T.H.: I don't think so. Having seen Joe Biden from earlier instances, this time he was extremely careful in avoiding any kind of gender issues. This has helped him a lot with winning the hearts of some American female voters.

Most people expected or feared that he would appear too arrogant if he spoke down to Sarah Palin, but he did not do that.

swissinfo: What did either candidate say that might resonate well with Swiss residents?

T.H.: Most Swiss are concerned with American foreign politics. That's the first thing.

The second thing is financial issues. When it comes to financial issues, I think Joe Biden had the better arguments, at least that is what most people would believe here in Switzerland.

The third issue that is important to Swiss is global warming. Biden is very clear that global warming is caused by human impact while Palin appeared to have different arguments on this. Most Swiss would very much agree with Biden's stance on warming and financial issues.

swissinfo: And your overall assessment?

T.H.: Sarah Palin did no damage to John McCain's campaign and I think Joe Biden also did not harm Obama. He did appear more confident. That's why I think he scored more points but the margin is very, very narrow.

swissinfo-interview: Tim Neville

Key statements

On climate change:
Palin: "There are real changes going on in our climate and I don't want to argue about the causes."
Biden: "I think it's clearly man-made. If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution."

On Iraq:
Biden: "John McCain said there would be enough oil to pay for this. John McCain has been dead wrong."
Palin: "Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today."

War on terror:
Palin: "There have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration."
Biden: "John McCain continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come from ... Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Biden: "Two years ago Barack Obama warned about the sub-prime mortgage crisis. John McCain said shortly after that, in December, he was surprised there was a sub-prime mortgage problem."
Palin: "Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house...We need to band together and say never again."

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