Scoring the Great Debate

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.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Andrew Norton has observed that the green hair vote is, on balance, unlikely to be Howard-leaning. I suspect he’s right and it was certainly an hilarious juxtaposition of images to have Green Hair Dude positioned prominently behind Annanbel Crabb while she waxed rhapsodic about the general uncommittedness of the uncommitted. I think Latham did pretty well – he needed to, after all – but it certainly wasn’t a walkover.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I was busy talking to Michael Jennings via Skype (clearer then a telephone call and it is free!) and forgot the debate was on.

It hit me sometime on Saturday night when I was out at the Royal Adelaide Show that it does not matter that much to most people who wins the election. The world will not end- football will be played in winter, cricket in summer, the economy will still be there; I think the general mood is, if Howard wins, he’ll know what he is doing, and if Latham wins, good luck to him.

I think that is the general mood of the Australian public- pressed to a point, they will make a choice one way or the other, but I think they take a much more sensible approach to politics then us bloggers.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Scott

Yes I agree. I’ve said before that I don’t think it makes all that much difference. The two parties’ policies in most respects are very very similar, and I don’t think Latham’s inexperience is a problem because there will be lots of experience in his Cabinet. It’s Howard’s divisiveness and dishonesty that make the difference for me at the moment.

Moreover, you shouldn’t assume I’m rivetted by the whole thing just because I’m forcing myself to blog a blow-by-blow campaign coverage. I’m actually at least as uninspired as you Scott, and I’d be more than happy for other Troppo bloggers to post more on the campaign so I can sink back into semi-attentive apathy.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I watched a bit of the young talent on Australian Idol (some of them are almost reach the giddy heights of Rex’s all time greatest shower hits), and then the excellent Hawking drama. By then I was feeling drained by the mind expanding concepts of the expanding Universe, and couldn’t face being bought back to earth. I went to bed and missed the Debate entirely.

I think I’m feeling better for it!

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

What would have happened if Latham had totally and visibly creamed Howard?

What would have changed from the discussion on the result as it now stands?

I venture nothing would.

The two men are so different that a visible outright blitz of Howard by Latham would have been written off as some other mitigating factor, other than he is a better man for the job. Latham is just too new, and too different from what we’ve been numbed used to, and the opposite true for the other man, for there to be a chance for Latham to be given the credence he deserved last night.

The only way the discussion of the debate could change would be if Howard visibly beat Latham, and the predictable result would then come. Even at even stevens, visibly, (not talking about the worm measure here), the predictability of the ensuing discussion is obvious.

The most influential things of all from last night is that many voters would have taken their first steps towards some engagement in this election, and that Latham went a long way towards establishing himself as a serious alternative, and that Latham became a more known quantity. There is a foundation in those things that can be developed through the next few weeks, when people take an active interest and therefore what happens then is what counts. That there was no actual visible result from this debate should not be confused with an actual change having been made. The foundation laid by Latham was crucial and will be reflected throughout his team’s approach. Without he’d have been gone for all money. Instead, he’s got himself a scrum at halfway in the middle of the field, and his put in.

Link (Carolinkus)
2022 years ago

I beg to differ Ken and Scott. The position of PM is the highest office in the land. The tenor of the character of that person filters down through society, it affects us all and it does matter who it is. Latham doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, he doesn’t have the statesman-like demeanour of a Whitlam or even dare I say, it a Fraser. It comes down to who you would follow into battle. Its a pretty rough choice. Latham at least has potential, guts, energy and so far, good-will.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

‘debates’ are pretty easy to forecast as I did with this one on the Likable left wing ratbag’s BP.

howard was palpably nervous. I wonder if internal polling made him realise the election is going the wrong way.

The ‘debate’ has certainly assisted Iron Mark.
It showed him to be howard’s equal and therefore prime ministerial.
It also showed Iron Mark’s ‘vision’ and Oz voters like that.

Howard did look and talk like a tired old man.

‘debates’ NEVER produce knockouts however if Opposition Leaders merely draw they win hence Iron Mark’s easy points win.

will it matter. Weel if it is close at present it may well.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

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). … and ther faux-centrists at Armadillo are so dithering, dull and dim they “can barely stifle a yawn”.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Ooh, bitchy.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Right back at you!

Jeremy
2022 years ago

I still think it’s a pretty sad day for democracy when we don’t care because we recognise that there’s hardly any difference between either of the two candidates anyway.

Isn’t democracy supposed to be about a meaningful choice?

Tony.T
2022 years ago

Not being a a great Great Debate watcher I only saw a bit on the Channel 2 late replay and it looks like I’m in the same camp as you blokes up there. Pretty much a slight win for Latham.

However, it strikes me that it would be much easier for the challenger, who hasn’t had to do anything so far, to score points off of the PM who has, afterall, done plenty that could be criticised. So, I was wondering whether the incumbent PM has ever won one of these debates.

PS: I thought I’d pop this in here, rather than in the bullshit Jakarta quagmire below.

Well said down there, Geoff.

sep
sep
2022 years ago

How is the debate “final-score” arrived at? For example if everybody in the audience thought Latham won 55-45, which seems to be the prevailling mood around the place, wouldn’t that mean a 100-0 victory to Latham?

If so then the actual margin of victory is fairly meaningless

Jozef
2022 years ago

Ach those worms and opinion polls (smile)

I could not agree with Mark More [http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0910-14.htm]

Mark Morford: Who The Hell Is Undecided? And Why do so Many Election Polls leave you Angry and Stupefied and Drunk?
Polls are the genital warts of election year. They are the swarming gnats in your Jell-O salad, the dead escalator in your shopping mall, the sour milk in your coffee.
These polls are designed solely to mangle your head and confound your synapses and elate you and titillate you and then plunge you into instant despair and then yank you back out at the last second like some sort of “Fear Factor” death-plunge moronism.

MM
MM
2022 years ago

I was in the bar of my local RSL at the time where the debate was broadcast on one of the screens. Faced with intense entertainment competition from a football replay the debate screen attracted an intense audience of 1 (one)!!

The exaltation of the CS cheersquad over the worm outcome sits oddly with the CS description of the undecided people who made up the worm sample:

“If you don’t have a preference you’re likely to be the sort who presses ice-cream cones into your forehead and walks into revolving doors the wrong way.” (courtesy of the currency lad blog)

As a self described swinging voter have you managed an icecream cone lately Ken?

The faux-centrists at armadillo may be dithering dull & dim but like most in the community and unlike the ‘cheersquads’ they are at least smart enough to know that the debate would be largely irrelevant to an informed decision, that the worm is a boring distraction, and that their time and emotions are probably best placed elsewhere.

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

Why comment at all, MM?

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“The faux-centrists at armadillo may be dithering dull & dim”

I believe Chris meant to say “dynamic, determined and delicious” MM but got distracted by a revolving door.

Tex
Tex
2022 years ago

I was watching The Sopranos. It was much more interesting.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“I was watching The Sopranos. It was much more interesting.”

Interestingly, 2,000,000 of us thought that ‘Australian Idol’ was more engaging. 1.18 million watched Channel 7 and 800,000 tuned in to watch ‘Bradman’ on the ABC. Just 1.47 million tuned into the debate.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

I was fighting with parish and putting jes to bed.
I like that our democracy is so stable that the footy etc will continues no matter who wins.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

I think your point about the 67-33 per cent vote being “absurd” is an example of the fallacy of representativeness. You said it was a ‘fairly clear though anything but overwhelming” victory for Latham

So, if the audience were made up of people identical to you, there would have been 100-0 vote for the proposition “Latham won”. This doesn’t imply that Latham thrashed Howard or that he will get 100 per cent of the vote.

If you suppose the audience to be in three equal parts, Labor-leaning, Liberal-leaning and one-third unbiased, then you’d get exactly the outcome we observed.

Martin Pike
2022 years ago

I note that Howard completely vindicated your huge Jakarta post below Ken, by aggressively pushing the dishonest cut-and-run equals more terror line.

He didn’t overly dwell on Jakarta, but rather used Beslan, Bali and 11/9 to dog whistle the pure low down message- that Latham = more Jakartas, Beslans and Balis.

I was shaken, as a Labor supporter, by the strength with which he did this, and thought Latham’s quietly measured approach would sink. Even if they did inadvertently end up with more lefties than righties, these were uncommitted voters, and it was buoying to see how attuned their bullshit detecters were each time the rat started speaking.

THe ‘green hair’ points are a bit cheap, when the camera panned around most of the audience looked pretty middle of the road and suburban to me. And it isn’t as if hair-parted aka 1950s with pin stripes is likely to be a swinging voter…

MM
MM
2022 years ago

Maybe the worm could be adapted for Australian Idol ??

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

A note on the green hair. That camera position was well considered and every one of those seats behind would have had people in them chosen by the producer. Draw from that whatever you will.

There could have been, in fact, two camera positions with no difference known to the viewer, with two entirely different backgrounds, and run with one after the result had come through.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

Homer’s right that it’s no critical point, as long as Latham doesn’t fall over (and he didn’t).

The main point of these and campaigning is to rally your own troops and keep up morale.

Peter is also right when he says that it’s just another opportunity for making Latham more acceptable to a wider, uncertain audience. There may be long-term benefits.

My own impression of Latham, formed from Webdiary in response to a Tim Dunlop piece slamming dairy deregulation, is that he is interesting because of his willingness to engage. I can’t remember seeing that in many politicians these days.

I thought he lost the protracted corres with Tim then, but it didn’t in any way alter my respect for him. Here is a fellow trying things, even new ways of engaging with people.

That was a long time back and my opinion has not changed. He’s different. He doesn’t always get it right and (at least in the past) he has a big abusive mouth. But somebody that will at least exchange ideas with the public has long been need in Labor and in Government.

He’s got to be worth a punt compared with what we have at present.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“And it isn’t as if hair-parted aka 1950s with pin stripes is likely to be a swinging voter…”

Sounds more like Ben Chifley to me. Though he was a bit of a swinger apparently………..

Tony.T
2022 years ago

MM, the worm should SING on Aussie Idol.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

Wonder which “hits” he/she would cover.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

John

Your point about the fallacy of representativeness would be correct if the question asked of the studio audience was “Who do you think won the debate?” On the other hand, if they were asked “how would you rate the candidates’ performance on a scale 1 to 100?” (or something similar), then it wouldn’t.

I don’t know exactly what the audience were asked, and the Sixty Minutes transcript doesn’t seem to be explicit about it. If they were indeed merely asked “who do you think won the debate?”, then it’s an inherently misleading question because it gives a quite skewed superficial impression of who won and by how much. As you say, even if all audience members thought (like me) that Latham won only by a hair’s breadth (say 51-49) (although I thought it was a little more than that), the answer to that question would appear at first blush to show Latham smashing Howard by 100-0.

And, as you say, if the audience was split fairly evenly into three groups of “undecideds”: ALP-leaning, Coalition-leaning and truly neutral undecided, you would indeed expect to see a distribution pretty much as it was, assuming that the reactions of the unabashed partisans are also reflected in their less committed cousins. That is, the Labor-leaning ones will tend to see Latham as having won, the Coalition ones will think Howard has won, and the truly neutral undecideds would presumably score it like I did, narrowly for Latham (I somewhat arrogantly assert that I was able to adjudicate it in a detached, unbiased manner despite my decision to vote Labor this time, and therefore I claim to be representative of the neutrals).

FrancisXavier Holden
2022 years ago

“And it isn’t as if hair-parted aka 1950s with pin stripes is likely to be a swinging voter…”

Was Homer “BBB” Paxton in the audience?

No one has mentioned a policy for those forgotten Australians who will decide the vote. The musically challenged. Homer, dont be backward in claiming a rightful share of the handouts for your bretheren. Take the lead. You could head up the DLP (Dispossesed L P fans) for music.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“If they were indeed merely asked “who do you think won the debate?”, then it’s an inherently misleading question because it gives a quite skewed superficial impression of who won and by how much.”

I don’t wish to be thought cynical but I’m reminded of “Beryl” an elderly lady bowler interviewed by the ABC during the 2001 election campaign. She and her colleagues were enjoying a cuppa at the club when the crew hove into sight and posed the clincher – “who are you going to vote for?”

‘I won’t vote for that Mr Beazley, ” shrilled Beryl, “his eyes are too close together.” I thought it was an odd thing to say about Kim whose eyes look pretty much OK to me on the spatial relationship front. But it does kind of sum up the subjectivity which all of us bring to bear on this stuff. David Tiley has already blogged at Barista on the importance of Mark Latham’s neckwear last night and I’m inclined to agree. It was compelling.

Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Another interesting point, which doesn’t appear to have been picked up by commentators, relates to the ability to be magnanimous and acknowledge common ground.

I don’t recall Howard at all doing this, he was aggressive from wo to go, whereas at least twice Latham acknowledged common ground or said something positive with reference to Howard.

For example, he acknowledged something to that effect on terror and security, that both would do their best and were acting on their firm beliefs as to what was best for Australia.

Howard was a ‘bad sport’, and I doubt this did him any good…

Niall
Niall
2022 years ago

Personally, I thought it was the blandest laod of horse-feathers since Howard’s last ‘doorstop’ interview. Both protagonists said nothing new, repeated the same tired rhetoric with standard catch-phrases thrown in. Debate is surely wasn’t.

MM
MM
2022 years ago

‘Beryl’ may be the key to understanding the futility of debates. And its no good pretending that subjectivity is not a key factor! My dear old Mum has always regarded how a candidate looks as a critical factor for all her life. Curiously despite being a conservative voter she has never taken to JH partly a factor of attending a mining industry forum in the 80s (with my Dad) where JH was a speaker she judged boring and his now rectified eyebrows.

If my memory is not deficient one of the earlier critical political debates was Nixon v Kennedy in 1970 where subsequent analysis of perceptions of outcomes focussed on appearance and particularly Nixon’s ‘5 o’clock shadow’ on tv. Curiously polls showed radio listeners thought Nixon had won while TV viewers gave it to Kennedy !?

If my memory is not deficient the 1996 debate (Howard v Keating) was followed by mild controversy about whether the studio set up had favoured Howard which i think (?) had something to do with very relevant issues such as heights of lecterns etc.

Too many ernest commentators (cheersquads?) should be taking a lead from Geoff Honours comments on subjectivity i suspect?

mark
2022 years ago

Could be worse, Jeremy. We’re up with a choice between a centre-righty (Howard), albeit one infected with an advanced case of hubris, and another centre-righty (Latham), who happens to be pretty arrogant. The candidates are not identical, and their fan clubs are very different, but really, if Latham wins, for all their bleating, the righties won’t mind too much — he’s almost one of them, after all. And if Howard wins, for all our bleating, we know the country isn’t going to go entirely down the crapper.

Compare, now, with the USA four years ago. We had Gore, a centre-right campaigner, versus Bush, a person who represented himself as centre-right, just like Gore but more exciting. I’ll take two candidates who’re too similar for comfort over two candidates who seem similar, but for the hidden little fact that one is an extremist liar who makes a mockery of the political system.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Francis, I believe Iron Mark listened to East West before the debate whereas Johnny listened to Layla.
Say no more!

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

Homer – With that Layla jibe you have just mortally wounded Pinko Sheil. Nice snark.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

It certainly won’t have eased his worried mind.

PaulM
PaulM
2022 years ago

The disppaointing thing was that the ‘audience’ (and I use the term loosely ;)) was required to judge the candidates on intellect (i.e. who do you think) yet judged the candidates on emotions (ie. the worm had ‘positive’ or ‘negative’).

To me – Latham may have won the emotions with the beating-the-chest appeal to struggling fmailies (who will be worse off under him anyway) yet Howard provided the most factual content. He, clearly, then ‘won’ the debate. But alas, with democracy the way it is, we vote on whose eyebrows or tie were the best? rollseyes.

Rock on 9 October….

trackback
2022 years ago

Bring it on!

As it happens, the timing of the debate tonight is a godsend for Labor. Having been meanly manipulated by John Howard to come on early in the campaign, where it can do him least damage, it now presents Mark Latham…

trackback
2022 years ago

Bring it on!

As it happens, the timing of the debate tonight is a godsend for Labor. Having been meanly manipulated by John Howard to come on early in the campaign, where it can do him least damage, it now presents Mark Latham…