The Leaders’ Debate

Many of you will have watched the seven-way party leaders’ debate last night. Personally I thought the format worked slightly better than I had expected – or feared – for which much credit must go to Julie Etchingham, the presenter. It didn’t quite turn into the seven-way shouting match that some had feared, although it verged on it once or twice. I also think that all the leaders, notwithstanding their different styles, performed creditably. But then there are reasons why people become party leaders (i.e. they tend to be quite good at this politics stuff).

Still, no-one really cares what I think. What did the public make of it all? There was the, now customary, rather silly race between the pollsters to deliver their verdicts on who ‘won’ in the instant reaction polls. (For what little it is worth, I believe my friends at YouGov actually got their figures out first…). This race rather obscures the fact that some more interesting data emerged a little later, in the details of the polls carried out by the four companies doing post-debate polls last night.

You can find the detailed poll findings here: from YouGovICMSurvation, and ComRes. I’d encourage you to look through them for yourself. There are a number of questions in these surveys which strike me as much more useful and informative than those that simply asked for a single ‘winner’.

One of the best questions was in YouGov’s poll, where instead of asking for people to nominate one winner they asked for people to rate all the leaders out of 10. Unfortunately they have not been able to provide a ‘regional’ breakdown on these figures; however, these are the GB-wide averages:


Sturgeon: 6.7

Cameron: 5.9

Miliband: 5.9

Clegg: 5.5

Farage: 5.5

Wood: 5.1

Bennett: 4.7


The other polls do provide some regional breakdowns; although the sub-samples are fairly small, and not weighted for representativeness within those regions (and so should therefore be interpreted with considerable caution), the figures still give some useful indications. For instance, all the Scottish sub-samples show Nicola Sturgeon rating very strongly among Scottish viewers of the debate. It is difficult to imagine that the debate will have done anything other than reinforce her party’s currently strong position in Scotland.

ICM do have a question on the leaders’ performances which is, I think, almost as good as that of YouGov. Respondents were asked to state whether they thought each of the leaders had performed well or badly. Subtracting the percentage of ‘Badly’ responses from the ‘Well’ ones for each leader, we get the following results:


Sturgeon: +38

Miliband: +28

Cameron: +21

Clegg: +16

Farage: +14

Wood: +12

Bennett: +1


Among the Welsh sub-sample (a fairly small one, at only 78 respondents), these were the following net well-badly ratings:


Sturgeon: +66

Wood: +50

Bennett: +45

Miliband: +15

Cameron: +12

Farage: -4

Clegg: -7


  • Dave Middleton

    “All the leaders performed creditably” Really? Why so non-commital? Perhaps its not only political leaders who are good at this politics stuff? I’m not sure why we had to have a winner, but one clearly emerged. Or, to put that another way one person emerged with more credit than any of the others. Obviously we now have to agree with Nic! Whilst you could argue that Farage performed well from his, and his supporters, perspective, his calculated homophobia and casual racism really don’t deserve credit. When even Gary Linekar calls you “a dick” it is unlikely that you have “performed creditably”. Indeed, Leanne Wood was correct that he should be ashamed of himself, but instead seems to have no shame at all. Which might make him a perfect example of the modern politician. I do wonder whether unlike the other smaller parties his performance hastened the already downward spiral in the polls of UKIP. My real question to you is how do we assess the impact of the debate on the eventual outcome of the election?

    • Roger Scully

      Well, sorry if you thought I was being non-committal, Dave, but that was my honest opinion. I think we need to remember that the leaders are not all trying to reach the same voters in these debates. Thus, Natalie Bennett was seen by many commentators as less polished than the other leaders. But for the sort of voters she is trying to reach, I’m not sure that that is a major problem – many of them would probably respond well to someone who does not look and sound like an uber-smooth professional politician. As for Nigel Farage – he may well have appalled many people. but I suspect that with the 10-20% of the electorate that he was trying to reach, his repeated linking of all the country’s ills to immigration may well have played well. I think all the leaders did a fairly good job of what they were trying to do.

  • Chris Saville

    I was interested in the results of your subgroup analysis on the Welsh voters in the ICM sample. Do you have other demographic or previous voting intention data on this sample to see how representative it is of the Welsh electorate? As you said, a sample of 78 can only be so representative, but we might have a better idea of how seriously we should take this analysis if we knew more about the sub-sample.

    Interesting blog, keep up the good work.

    • Roger Scully

      Thanks, Chris. No I don’t is the simple answer to your question. I wouldn’t place great emphasis on these particular results; I do think, though, that this form of question is much more appropriate for a multi-leader debate than one that asks for a single ‘winner’.

      • Chris Saville

        Certainly. Asking ‘who won’ assumed all parties were trying to maximise general appeal across the UK. Clearly not the case for Plaid and the SNP and probably not even the case for parties like UKIP and the Greens who are looking to carve out a corner of the electorate, rather than win a majority. Not clear there is a metric to capture aims of all parties. Maybe some sort of index of change in voting intention.

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