Friday, October 12, 2007

Polish political TV debates are like game shows

Latest polls all over the place....(OCT 14) ....OBOP pollsters....Civic Platform 46%, Law and Justice 21%, Left and Democrats 11%.....(OCT 15)...PBS pollsters...Civic Platform 38%, Law and Justice 37%, Left Dem 18%.....PGB pollsters ...Law and Justice 36%, Civic Platform 30%, Left Dems 18% ......go figure......

If your idea of a televised debate during an election campaign between the two main protagonists is of the formal, stiff, American variety, then the Polish version will come as a bit of a shock.

The Tusk-Kaczynski TV debate game show tonight – that the media billed as the key moment in the election campaign, when government could be won or lost – was a bizarre sight. The set looked like a game show. The three different referees, with white teeth, taking turns over the three rounds looked like game show hosts. The audience whooped and applauded their man, and booed and heckled his opponent. It reminded me of that old classic – The Price is Right.

The rules of the game show were that each politician had one minute, or more often thirty seconds, to either give an answer or ask a question of his opponent. At the end of the allotted time, a gong would go off. Bong! Like the Gong Show.

But, of course, the combatants - Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and leader of the largest opposition party, Donald Tusk – didn’t keep to the rules.

Instead of asking a question, they made a statement. When they ignored the gong going off, Bong!, after still not asking a question, the hapless referees - political journalists and one was the head of Polish Radio 3 - would bark, time and again: ‘Time for a question, time for a question..’, as the politicians droned on and on and on....

It was hilarious. Round One was on the economy – a bit predictable - but things started to get heated during Round Two – foreign policy.

Donald Tusk berates the Prime Minister for his Rottweiler style of diplomacy [cheers, boos,] Bong! Kaczynski infers that Tusk isn’t Polish, he’s German (he comes from Gdansk/Danzig) Boo ....Cheer....Bong!...and that if Tusk wins the election then he would lay down at the feet of Brussels, giving up all the vetoes and blocks that Kaczynski is trying to make sure stay in any new EU Reform/Constitution Treaty and [referee, ‘Time for a question, time for a question’]...Boo.....Hiss.....Cheer....Poland will consequently continue to be infected by ‘homosexualism and euthanasia’.....Boo....Hiss.....Cheer......Laugh.....Boo....Bong!

Audience: 'Don-ald Tusk, Don-ald Tusk....Ka-czyn-ski, Ka-czyn-ski....'

And so it went on. I watched open mouthed, waiting for a hook on the end of a long stick to emerge from the side of the stage and rap around one of their necks and haul them off the set.


Who won? Eighty five percent of viewers of the private TVN 24 said it was a crushing win by Tusk - but they are Tusk voters. Thing is – it wasn’t a game show. Nobody walked off with the cuddly toy and the fortnight in Ibiza. Supporters of Kaczynski will think he won; supporters of Tusk will say he did.

As for the ‘floating voter’, torn widely by the charisma and verve of the two main players in the Polish election, I really don’t think they have learned anything about these characters that they didn’t, unfortunately, know already.


michael farris said...

Well, the things you're complaining about happened in the Kaczynski Kwasniewski debate too. They'll happen in _any_ debate in Poland. That's just the way things done are done here. Rules that English-speakers think are inviolable and set-in-stone are seen more as vague guidelines to be modified as needed by Polish people. And the rules of public discourse in Poland require lengthy prefaces to anything substantive. I'd give the candidates each five minutes to answer each question (and turn off the microphones when their time is up).

For the record I'll repost what just wrote on the previous debate thread:

"I was extremely pleasantly surprised by Friday's debate.
Tusk had his problems (as always) but more often than not he reduced Kaczynski to defensive posturing, distraction tactics (interrupting Tusks's time to run out the clock before Tusk could tear Kaczynski's weak answer to shreads) and nasty below-the-belt attacks (yes, Tusk slipped there too with the gun story).
In other words, Tusk just had (I daresay) the political triumph of his life tonight and breathed new life into the campaign.
Look for the _real_ mudslinging from PiS to start very quickly. Jacek Kurski, your closeup is coming in 5,4,3...."

I agree that hardcore PiS voters won't be swayed (25-30 % of the electorate) but Tusk finally gave some of the fence-sitters a reason to take him seriously. I think Kaczynski made the dangerous mistake of underestimating his oppontent. Now, I'm sure it'll only be a matter of days before he (Tusk) blows it, but it's nice while it lasts ...

beatroot said...

Yeah, it is looking like he 'won' the debate. But I would love to see some research (American, cause you have lots of experience with TV debates) to see what effect they have on voting intentions. I know there is lots of research that suggests that political advertising has little effect - so I wonder if debates do. I am thinking of Nixon looking like a death mask against kennedy - but TV appearences were rare in those days. Poeple know what Kaczor is like by now.

And one of the reasons why British PMs do not do debates is that governments are always going to be on the defensive because they have a record - with all the mistakes - to defend.

The opposition, by definition, has no record in government to defend - so they have not had a chance to make any mistakes. The incumbant is usually at a disadvantage in debates.

michael farris said...

I think a case can be made for debates helping Bush in 2000. He basically lost in terms of performance. But it wasn't the wipeout his supporters feared - it was fairly close (in American football terms, he beat the spread). This was spun as a victory by his supporters, which no one else believed, but his near loss amounted to a net gain in support (in polls at any rate).

Similarly there's a story on this american life ( that's a case study of a family wanting to be convinced to vote for Kerry in 2004. But he couldn't close the deal with his weak, indecisive debate performance (something I heard from a lot of people).

Again, the diehard PiS supporters won't be convinced (I can't imagine what would sway them). But I think some people who were sympathetic to PO but frustrated with Tusks's general weak aura were favorably impressed (I had imagined the debate would be like a hungry polar bear vs a baby seal). Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how this will translate into votes...

Anonymous said...

The clapping, the gongs, Monika Olejnik were annoying. It was in the style of a show, not necessarily a debate.

But, I still think that Tusk made some valid points, points I didn't think he would make. Just like last week, when Kwasniewski underestimated Kaczynski's ability and couldn't come up with the punches or the answers in time, I felt that Tusk would fall flat.

I was wrong. I think Kaczynski fell flat; he was unprepared and lacked the information to make any significant gains. Tusk's team prepared him well with numbers and statistics and information that may sway voters.

I agree that Kurski is just behind the curtains, waiting to come out with "revelations" of a sorrid sort. That's what Kurski is there for. He does the dirty work.

All polls and public opinions seem to indicate that Tusk has won. We'll see in just over a week how the voters feel.

Anonymous said...

Supporters of Kaczynski will think he won; supporters of Tusk will say he did.

Not really.

If you look at the polls, both parties have more or less equal support, so you'd expect the opinions on who won the debate split half by half.

Instead, the polls about the debate indicate an overwhelming victory for Tusk, with results ranging from 89/8 ( to 67/33 ("Rz"). (Source). So, even the best result for Kaczyński (and I have a feeling this is the least skewed one) is still devastating for him.

It will be insteresting to see what effect this will have at the ballot box, though.

beatroot said...

Well, right - ballot box is the only poll that counts. And I would very suspicious of snap telephone polling. The proper opinion polling - over two days, 1000 systematic random sample are wild at the moment - so these quickly polls are going to be even more weird and unrepresenative of voting intentions.

Anonymous said...

Silly me. I naively thought it was all bollocks from start to finish. Yet, esteemed bloggers can write about it (apparently) of their own free will - how could that be? Bah! Anything seems possible in this best of all possible worlds and even more so in the people's republic no 2.

Anonymous said...

Do you wnat to know what the Kaczynski brothers, Kwasniewski, and George Bush have in common? None of them has a son who is military age. At least Tusk has a son who is military age. Don't think that doesn't make a difference when it comes to making military decisions.

michael farris said...

"I naively thought it was all bollocks from start to finish"

It mostly was. TV debates are never serious platforms for examining policy. One of the main things they do is to give voters an idea of "character" (whatever that is) and get some idea of what basic direction the politicians want to take the country in . Whether this is a bug or a feature is ... debateable.

I think there was exactly one good point made (that Tusk needs to keep repeating). It was his best shot and he got it in early:
Too many Polish people of the kind Poland needs are voting with their feet to _not_ live in the kind of Poland the ducks want. And all mass movements of people are _from_ economies that are more like what Kaczynski wants and _to_ economies that are more like what Tusk (says he) wants.

This cut off too many of Kaczynski's preferred talking points (unless he wanted them ripped up) and never really recovered, preferring to play possum on tv and roll out the układ fire and brimstone before more appreciative audiences.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point by a mile: this is not a real political process because it is not a real state. It's no more than a re-incarnation of the prl with a crowned eagle (voted in by a commie "parliament", which Anglo-Saxons pronounce "shame", with 35% fellwo travellers and the rest nominated commies). What debate can change any of that?

michael farris said...

Okay, I'm sorry I did misunderstand. I thought you were worth engaging with. My mistake.

Anonymous said...

Providing all you wish to do is to confirm your idiosyncrasies, you are correct, it was a mistake to engage with me. Should, however, a concept as lofty as the truth not be completely devoid of any meaning we are obliged to engage those who we disagree with. This is a moral duty of a free person. When free people do not engage in debate, one opinion begins to dominate (like the one you presented but that's just an irrelevant example) and, imperceptibly, liberty disappears.

michael farris said...

Okay, what a "real" Polish state look like to you?

Be specific about methods and expected (and likely) results.

Anonymous said...

"Be specific, Bob!" that's a quote from a cartoon, I'm sure not worth engaging with. I'm sorry, I don't like to be dictated, never mind if it's the politburo or blogosphere.
Let's think, what do states do? They enjoy something called "sovereignty” – have you heard of one of those – which (although debated for ages) in essence means the authority over institutions, legal system and policies of the state.
That prl was not a state goes without saying but the prl 2 – which we’re talking about here – is a more complicated beast. There is for instance an outside semblance of democracy (which as such has nothing to do with sovereignty but let’s not open that can of worms) so The People have a say in what kind of state they want but there are limits to that; limits set out in shady deals, which in turn mean that this is not a sovereign state.
Does this answer your question?

michael farris said...

"I'm sorry, I don't like to be dictated"

So, you don't like it when I don't want to engage in dialogue and then you don't like it when I try.

"They (states: maf) enjoy something called "sovereignty”"

All states have some limits on sovereignty.

"The People have a say in what kind of state they want but there are limits to that; limits set out in shady deals, which in turn mean that this is not a sovereign state. Does this answer your question?"

No, I can't say that it does.

What are the limits set out in shady deals? I won't act like the stormtrooper I am and say "be specific". So, pretty please with sugar on top:
What is it that you think Poland should do that it can't because of whatever forces you think there are that are limiting its sovereignty?

Anonymous said...

It's nothing personal, actually. I did not TELL you to engage, I said it's a duty of an intellectual and I stand by that; whether YOU engage is up to you. You, however, demanded that I be specific and I take exception to that with sugar on top or without.
Now, to the point. Being a storm trooper does not exempt you from the constraints of logic, or does it? The nature of shady deals is exactly that they are – wait for it! – shady! So no one really knows what was agreed apart from the very existence of a shady deal, parties in which are vitally interested in non disclosure. So perhaps we can try to agree on the facts (that seem to have annoyed you):

1. Was there a 35% election in 1989?
2. Where did the other 65% of deputies come from?
3. Did this 35% parliament change the name of that “state”, crown the eagle and announce that this was now free Poland?

If you answer YES to these three (indeed, like in the commie referendum in 1946)you have teh description of the staus quo ante defining the staus quo.
You ask about the limits, one was fairly easily definable: just look at the parliamentary coup conducted by the “president” to overthrow the Olszewski government. Can you identify the red line that was clearly overstepped by Macierewicz et al.?
Unfortunately, the current regime, for all their rethoric is as implicated in the shady deals as everyone else in this (as Ukrainians call it) demokratura.

Frank Partisan said...

Do you remember the Bush debate earpiece scandal?

Anonymous said...

Shadiness? Corrupt, dishonest dealings? What a novelty!

Anonymous said...

Can you identify the red line that was clearly overstepped by Macierewicz et al.?

Of course. Olszewski's government was preparing a military coup. That was the real reason they were dismissed.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Bolek! Where the fuck did you get that one from?

Anonymous said...

FAO michael:

z dnia 2 kwietnia 1997 r.

Tekst Konstytucji Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej ogłoszono w Dz.U. 1997, NR 78 poz. 483

Anonymous said...

And? Your point is? Do you still remember your slip of the tongue about two ends of the same policy?

Anonymous said...

I thought it had something to do with Macierewicz's claim that Olszewski's eyebrows needed to be trimmed.

This is clearly in violation of sharia law and thus crosses the red line:

Anonymous said...

That's very funny but they didn't set out to lose power or did they? I used to cross the red lines of commie sharia laws so Kiszczak's mates beat me up at the Mostowskis' Palace although they needed their own eyebrows trimmed. Such are the vagaries of commie constitutions. So, Kiszczaku, you can shove it up your ass and then set it on fire for all I care about your constitutions.

Anonymous said...

Where the fuck did you get that one from?

Snopkiewicz J. (ed.) Teczki, czyli widma bezpieki. BGW, Warszawa 1992. ISBN 8370664172.

Anonymous said...

OK, so that's the last word on the reasons for teh parliamnetary coup. What about the first words? Bolek himself did not allege that Olszewski (after all a prime minister in power) was preparing a military coup (against his own rule, obviously) but instead suggested that looking at the presidemt's secret file was beyond the pale.
Somehow, Snopkiewicz as the be all and end all is in teh same class as Kiszczak's constitutions.