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Election debates 2015 - Who was the real winner?

April 10th, 2015 - Posted by Doireann Clabby in Political Media Tracker

The first-of-its-kind two-hour election debate between seven of the leading political parties drew in 7.4 million viewers last week, equating to a 33% share of the national TV audience. 

But viewing figures were down more than 2 million on the equivalent programme last election.  Then, 9.4m viewers tuned in to see a debate between just three politicians: Conservative leader David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Gordon Brown.

Much of the 2010 debate centred on the numerous agreements of David Cameron and Gordon Brown with the ideas of Nick Clegg, however, the current political landscape meant that the 2015 debate was awash with conflicting opinion.

Despite moments of considerable animation, the debate maintained a robust format and focused on key areas of the election including the economy, health and immigration.

A variety of perspectives on tackling the UK's deficit were offered by each of the party leaders.  David Cameron heralded the coalition's economic plan and many, perhaps expectedly, drew reference to Labour's spending record in the previous government.  Ed Miliband, who directed most of his allotted speaking time towards 'the people at home' (prompting one outspoken viewer on Twitter to exclaim: 'stop looking at us Ed, you're weird') promised to 'balance the books' if he was Prime Minister, but failed to explain how.

Nick Clegg's traditional via media message promised to "cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour," while the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon stated that Coalition austerity was "pushing people into poverty," arguing that she wants "an economic plan that gets spending down but protects the vulnerable." 

There was universal support for the NHS across all of the main political parties, although Nicola Sturgeon extolled the virtue of a separate NHS for England in order to protect Scotland from further cuts.  Nigel Farage dropped his trademark bombshell during the NHS focus, arguing that the 60 per cent of those diagnosed with HIV in the UK that are not British Nationals are an unnecessary expense.  Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood instantly told the leader of UKIP that he should be 'ashamed of himself.

Despite strong performances from the minority parties, with both the SNP and UKIP leaders being touted as winners of the debate, David Cameron finished the debate in statesmanlike form, urging voters not to send the UK back to "square one" by electing Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.

Our Nexis research shows that despite the animation between the party leaders and the engagement with the debate on social media, none of the speakers came out as the clear winner in the media.  With a panel of seven speakers, this is to be expected, although those recognising Nicola Sturgeon as the winner may be correct in doing so, as the debate has bumped her media profile slightly.

election debate 2015

The coming weeks will be increasingly important for all of the political parties, particularly in an election predicted to be so close.  With many of the key issues still up-in-the-air and a close fight at the polls, it is difficult to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty.

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