The US Presidential Debate Domestic Policy Drinking Game

A fun way to enjoy the first presidential debate.

Obviously, the New Statesman doesn't advocate drinking in your place of work, or at all. (It also disapproves of dancing, and "that modern music".) You might perhaps enjoy this game with lemonade or water, or a refreshing iced tea. Over to Nicky:

As has become traditional, both parties are downplaying their chances of victory before debate night tonight. Romney has the easier job of this one. Obama's intimidating skills as a rhetorician helped him against McCain when he was an upstart candidate, but he needs to be careful; low expectations of Romney might trip the president up. He has to be amazing to maintain expectations, while all Romney has to do is not screw up to exceed them. That said, Romney is trailing in the polls, so he might go for broke tonight, which would be deeply entertaining – but if he doesn't try anything crazy, here's the New Statesman's Domestic Policy Debate Drinking Game to play.

The rules:

First, choose your candidate – or try to play with both if you haven't got work tomorrow.

There are several keywords to start you off: take a big swig when you hear them from your candidate. Romney's drink-on-hearing words are “deficit”, “gas prices” and “debt”. Obama's are “General Motors”, “college tuition”, and “investment.”

Both will be talking about “jobs” an awful lot, so this should only be a drink-word if you want to get really, seriously drunk.

A few set-pieces next: these are for everyone. Any time either candidate tells an anecdote in which they met someone specific, everyone must shout “Joe the Plumber!” and finish their drinks.

Any mention of the secret video filmed of Mitt Romney earlier this year – even a hint at its contents – everyone must down just over half of their remaining drinks and throw the last 47 per cent away. (See what we did there?)

If Obama talks about his childhood or youth, take a gulp from the drink of the person on your left. If Romney does the same, take a gulp from the drink of the person on your right. If either candidate mentions the word “freedom”, everyone high-fives.

Finally, verbal habits of each candidate. If one of them happens, everyone must repeat it out loud, and take a sip. For Obama, every time he says “my opponent” or “let me be clear”; you drink. Any time he makes a list of three on a rising cadence everyone must shout “three!” and drink.

For Romney, every time he refers to the audience as “my friends,” or laughs awkwardly, you drink. Every time he asks a rhetorical question and then says “I'll tell you why,” or “I'll tell you the answer,” you drink whether he then goes on to do so or not.

Nicky Woolf will be live-blogging the debate from 1am BST. He will not be drinking (right, Nicky?)

Obama and Romney on a T-shirt. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Is Labour really as doomed as it seems? The polls have got it wrong before

Pollsters often overrate Labour's performance. But in two elections, the opposite happened. 

Few moments in the Labour Party’s history can have felt as gloomy as this one. Going into a general election that almost no-one expects them to win, their overall opinion polling is appalling. Labour seems becalmed in the mid-20s; the Conservative Party has rocketed into the mid- to high-40s, and has even touched 50 per cent in one survey.

The numbers underlying those voting intention figures seem, if anything, worse. The Conservatives have huge leads on leadership and economic competence – often even more reliable indicators of election results than the headline numbers. High turnout groups such as the over-65s have turned against Labour in unprecedented numbers. Working-class Brits have swung towards the Conservative, placing once-safe Labour seats in danger. There are limited, but highly suggestive, hints among the data that the swing against Labour is higher in its own marginal seats – a potentially toxic development for any party seeking to hang on to MPs, as Conservatives defending apparently impregnable majorities under John Major in 1997 would attest.

All the while, Labour seems confused about what it is really for. Try as he might, Keir Starmer’s term as Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary has been marred by a fatal confusion and indecision about the extent of the UK’s future engagement with the European Union’s single market. Labour seems neither the party of Brexit nor of Remain, but one determined to irritate as many voters as possible. A similar situation reigns in Scotland, where nationalists under Nicola Sturgeon face Conservative Unionists led by Ruth Davidson, and Labour struggles even to gain a hearing.

Many Labour policy offers – free primary school meals for all, the promise of free university tuition, nationalising the railways, upholding the triple lock of pensions, opposing National Insurance rises for the self-employed – are pleasingly universal, while in isolation appealing to different electoral groups. But together, they represent a massive shift of resources to higher-income Brits that would take huge tax rises to offset. Labour is dangerously close to offering a regressive package under the guise of left-wing radicalism. This is pretty much as far from the British people’s electoral sweet spot as it is possible to imagine.

It is therefore little wonder that Labour lags so far behind Theresa May’s Conservatives. Even some Labour strongholds appear likely to fall - regional polls from London and Wales suggest that many Labour seats will be lost in the party’s remaining citadels. Brutal stories are already coming in from the campaign trail. Rumours fly of truly epochal losses - though it is important to note that other anecdotes seem much less dramatic.

Still, there are other indicators – all too easily missed in the heat of the moment – that point in the other direction. Labour’s performance in local by-elections has been dire for the main opposition party, but the swing towards the Conservatives has been running at "only" just over 2 per cent. The party has certainly suffered some big swings against it, and it has lost wards to the Conservatives in local authorities as varied as Hertfordshire, Harrow and Middlesborough. But there is no evidence that its vote has collapsed on the scale that some of the polling suggests.

Relatively recent history should also give us pause before we write Labour off altogether. Consider the last two general elections in which Labour had near-death experiences, in both 1983 and 2010. Britain’s third party - first the Liberal-SDP Alliance, and then the Liberal Democrats - seemed about to overtake Labour in the popular vote, and steal scores of seats from the bigger progressive party. On both occasions, Labour was able to draw on hitherto unguessed-at wells of cultural identity and strength to pull away right at the campaign’s end. These are in fact the only elections in recent times when the polls have underrated, rather than overestimated, Labour’s likely score. It might be that the same phenomenon emerges this time.

The Conservatives’ huge lead right now has not resulted from a sudden collapse in Labour support, but rather from the United Kingdom Independence Party’s well-publicised implosion. If anything, after about a year of steady decline, the last week or two has seen Labour’s twelve months of slow deflation grind to a halt. Labour’s numbers have even ticked up a point or two as some voters appear to rally around "their" flag. It might be that, as you squeeze the Labour vote down, it becomes more resilient to further shrinkage.

As the Conservatives try to push into Labour’s heartlands, they might find it harder and harder to persuade voters across, from Ukip as well as from Labour. The Conservatives’ image is still far from good in such communities, whatever the underanalysed and separate appeal of PM May as a strong, considered leader in need of a negotiator’s mandate in Europe. Voters might be attracted to May, and repelled by Corbyn - that does not necessarily mean that they will actually vote Conservative. There is little evidence, so far, of any realignment in how voters see themselves – whether they "are" Labour or Conservative, rather than the more ephemeral question of whether they will simply vote for those parties.

Humans always look for patterns. Experts are no exception, while journalists and commentators can always jump to rapid – but wrong – conclusions in the overexcited heat of an election campaign. So it is with the threat of a Labour catastrophe on 8 June. The danger of just such a result is definitely there. But some of the data points we already have, and two recent elections at which Labour walked close to an abyss, cast a little bit of doubt on the inevitability of such an outcome. There are still just over six weeks to go. A Conservative landslide is still quite likely. But it is not certain. We should keep an eye out for the many hints that May’s gamble might end in a rather less crushing victory than we have been led to expect.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Politics of Water in Post-War Britain (Palgrave Macmillan: forthcoming, May 2017).

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