Well, the bloggers’ vote on the Great Debate is tiresomely predictable. The lefties at Chris Sheil’s place scored it a smashing victory for Latham, while the RWDBs at Tim Blair’s joint thought exactly the opposite (and reckoned the “worm” audience was rigged).
This particular swinging voter scored it a fairly clear though anything but overwhelming victory to Latham. I thought Howard performed quite well, although his formulaic response to the retirement issue did look remarkably unconvincing. On the other hand I thought Latham’s “ease the squeeze” tag line was too cute by half.
I also thought the multiple interviewer format was very unsatisfactory and disruptive to forming a coherent impression of the contenders.
Like many of the pundits, I thought the “worm” audience’s 67-33% verdict for Latham was absurd and bore no resemblance to the leaders’ actual performances.
However, I doubt that the “worm” audience was rigged, and I certainly don’t think you can draw that conclusion because there was one person with dyed green hair. I’m prepared to accept that ACNeilsen selected people who were genuinely “swinging” voters, although it would be interesting to know the process they used to identify and select them.
I suspect that the process of actually participating in the “worm” continuous contemporaneous voting exercise itself introduces a bias into the result. It’s a totally artificial, hothouse environment that emphasises momentary emotional responses, perhaps to the detriment of the sort of more considered and detached evaluative exercise a “swinging” viewer would otherwise perform. It would have been more interesting to compare the evaluations of a “swinging” audience that hadn’t been subjected to using the “worm” throughout the debate. Latham’s debating style obviously suited the “worm” format.
But what does it all mean? As several commenters pointed out on Chris Sheil’s blog, the Great Debate outcome (whether or not scored by “worm”) has been a very poor predictor of the subsequent election result. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly better to win than lose it. What will be much more important will be how things play out over the next week:
- To what extent will nationals security stories continue to crowd out other issues in the mainstream media?
- How effective will the parties’ respective advertising campaigns prove to be? Presumably Labor’s advertising will begin in earnest this week, although I suspect both parties will be holding back quite a bit for a blitz in the last week after footie finals are out of the way.
- How attractive will Labor’s detailed health and education policies be when revealed, and how much coverage will they get?
- Will Latham succeed in luring Peter Costello into the public gaze, to ram home the image of the lurking heir apparent and capitalise on the evident strong reaction to Howard’s formulaic evasion about his retirement?
- How will the parties’ respective subterranean campaign tactics (direct mail and email, push polling and other micro-wedge tactics) play out in the marginals? I suspect that most pundits and bloggers don’t realise just how important these tactics have become, because they aren’t visible to anyone but the crucial marginal voters themselves, and aren’t really known in detail to anyone other than core party insiders. I reckon Howard is likely still to enjoy a wedge edge, if only because I think the Coalition’s wedge guru Mark Textor is the best and most experienced negative campaigning tactician on either side.
BTW It’s conceivable that the parties’ subterranean campaigning tactics in the marginals provide a partial explanation for last week’s Newspoll results.
PS – Graham Young’s focus group polling (discussed over on Ambit Gambit) is worth a look, although the results don’t seem especially surprising. Their limiting factor is that they don’t seem to attempt to measure swinging or uncommitted voters’ opinions and responses separately as far as I can see. Graham mentions that 22% had not made up their minds, but then strangely concludes that this means “that the campaigns may change very little about the outcome“. Surely when the quantitative polling is showing the parties so close together, the way that 22% of undecideds cast their votes will be absolutely critical. Moreover, even among the 78% who said they’d made up their minds, how “soft” or “hard” is their support for their party of choice? Could they be induced to change their voting decision during the campaign? It isn’t clear from Graham’s discussion whether they tried to measure this.
Update – Former senior Labor apparatchik Trevor Cook’s reaction to the Great Debate was pretty much the same as this armadillo’s (and Geoff Honnor’s):
Latham won, but on points not convincingly. Main reason – debate didn’t get past the plattitudes of both sides. Nothing new.
Pretty boring overall, struggled to stay awake during most of it.
Questions were predictable. The journalists added little. …
Personally, I doubt that the debate would have changed a single vote.
Sky says Canberra media gallery gave it strongly to Latham. Means he will get a day or two of good coverage. Doubt that it will make much difference to the campaign overall.
So the fanatics of left and right seem to be all excited and/or outraged, but the rest of us can barely stifle a yawn.