So, another Thursday, another leader’s debate and although the novelty has worn off a bit, the interest still seems to be enormous. Eight million people are estimated to have watched the debate live on the BBC and #leadersdebate was the top trending topic worldwide on Twitter for a couple of hours.
It seems pretty clear that the debates have been the most important aspect of the campaign (at least so far). But how will they affect the outcome? I see several channels through which one’s opinions may be influenced by the debates: the debate itself; word of mouth, whether face-to-face or through social media; and mainstream news.
Those eight million people watching live will have been influenced directly by their own interpretation of the leaders’ responses to the questions, their body language, their fluency in speech etc. This represents a sizeable proportion of the voting population and therefore could have a significant impact on the election result. However, these same people will have had their views reinforced or eroded by influence from the other three communication channels and many people who did not see the debates will be swayed only by these other sources – an example of transmedia storytelling.
In social media, whilst Nick Clegg did not have the lion’s share of social media chatter this time round, but he did win the Facebook vote for the third time running and also was the only one of the leaders to have more positive chatter than negative.
Source: Cision Social Media
In the mainstream media, things tend to a look a bit different depending on who you ask. If you ask the punters to give their votes you get all sorts of results. Channel Four’s instant poll gives it to Brown, ITV’s to Cameron and the Sun’s to Clegg (yes, you read that right). However, they haven’t used this feedback to inform their news output, Channel Four’s website gives it Cameron (and really puts the boot into Brown), as does The Sun rather less surprisingly.
So while we can conclude that the leaders’ performances in the debates have had an effect on their election chances, it’s difficult to assess how much the traditional media machines are modifying that effect in their reportage. This we will discover on polling day.
Oh well, no more leaders’ debates for a while. If only there were something else on TV next Thursday to keep me interested in politics.