With this being the only debate of the 2015 election featuring all the main parties, we have asked ordinary voters about their reaction to the debates.
In total we had 615 respondents: 69% watched all of it, 22% watched part of it and 9% did not watch any of the debate. A substantial proportion - 66% of people - had already made up their mind who to vote for before the debate.
People were asked to rank the leaders performance from 1-7. Nicola Sturgeon, SNP Leader, was the clearest winner with an average rank of 6.1. Sturgeon’s performance was commented on across the media. Behind Sturgeon the leaders are rather clumped together, with Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett’s average rank being between 3.9 and 4.5. Nigel Farage and David Cameron both fared less well, with ranks of 2.4 and 2.9 respectively.
The data clearly shows that there were was no major breakthrough or disastrous failure for any of the leaders. Sturgeon clearly benefited from the debate most, but most respondents will be unable to vote for SNP so the wider implications are more limited. The stalemate between Labour and the Conservatives was not broken, with Miliband doing slightly better.
Impressions of leaders, regardless of party support
When looking at leader impressions regardless of who people intend to vote for we get some interesting results. Nicola Sturgeon was again the clear winner, with 66.9% of people stating they have a more positive impression of her following the debate and only 4.5% more negative. Ed Miliband made a good impression, which was supported by an increase in his personal approval ratings. 35% had a more positive view of Miliband, and only 13% more negative. David Cameron did poorly, just 4.3% of people had a more positive impression and 25% more negative. Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett both fared well, with 54% and 40% of people having a more positive view of them and few people more negative. Nigel Farage did poorly on all counts.
Again Sturgeon was the clear benefactor in terms of overall impressions. Farage and Cameron did poorly but that is likely a reflection of the audience, as in national polling both did fairly well and were certainly not lagging behind the other candidates. The positivity towards Miliband was perhaps the most significant fact in determining the outcome of the election, it suggests that when people actually view him, away from the press, Ed is fairly well received by voters.
Effect on voting decisions
With the notion of even having this debate being so long and drawn out, our final question looked at whether people’s personal voting decisions or those of others would be influenced by watching the debate. In both cases individuals though it would not change voting decisions ‘a lot’.
There is an interesting disparity in people’s views of how the debates affected their own and others views. People thought it would not change their own views, with 62% saying they would not change them at all. 35% did think it would change their voting decision ‘somewhat’ which is still a significant number.
The figure for other people’s voting intention was much higher, 80% thought the debate would change others views ‘somewhat’ and a only 12% ‘not at all’.
It is clear that the debates had a demonstrable effect on the majority of our respondents. Perceptions of party leaders changed a great deal with large rises in popularity for some and falls for others. A large proportion will consider their voting decision following the debates. From this, it is reasonable to claim that the debate has been beneficial to our democracy.