Leaders’ debate tonight! Reading through some of the political science about debates over lunchtime and the general consensus seems to be that debates don’t really change voters’ minds unless one of the debaters dramatically under-performs or over-performs. But all other things being equal, viewers generally think the politician they liked going into the debate ‘won’, and the greatest impact of most debates is to persuade viewers towards the policies and viewpoints of the politician they’re already predisposed to like.
But its possible that either candidate tonight could dazzle us, or disgrace themselves. Key is likely to be the usual chilled out entertainer who sees everything in All-Blacks analogies and played golf with Barack Obama, but he’s very crafty and quick-witted when he wants to be: he ran rings around Phil Goff in 2011. On the other hand, his judgement over the last couple weeks hasn’t been great.
And then there’s Cunliffe. I was one of those idiots who thought he’d make a better Labour leader than David Shearer, because Cunliffe could ‘take the fight’ to Key, and I had events like tonight’s debate in mind. So this would be a good time for Cunliffe to deliver on what now seems like his very distant promise. Sadly I think he’s just as likely to say something inane and narcissistic and further repel voters. I hope he doesn’t do that.
I also hope the pundits and commentators lined up to comment on the debate have more substantive critiques to make than, ‘He looked masterful,’ or ‘He seemed nervous.’
In terms of strategy, I think Cunliffe will attempt to speak to older voters who are deserting his party for New Zealand First. Key will speak to current National voters and frighten them into turning out and voting ‘Unless you want David Cunliffe, Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom running the country.’