What impact has the televised political debate had and how does this affect the political parties strategies?

Consultancy

Style and substance

The recent political debates have caused a huge level of interest with a reported 9 million UK views tuning in to see the first ever televised political leaders debate during a UK election campaign.

The winners and losers

Much has been said about the winners and losers of the debate. I think it is fair to say that many of the opinion polls placed Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, as the person who performed the best during the first of the three scheduled debates.

Sustaining the advantage

Although first blood was drawn by Nick Clegg, the question arises as to whether this was such a good thing for the Liberal Democrats. It is now likely that both Conservatives and Labour are more likely to focus on the Liberal Democrats policies and the individual’s political credentials - not least the lack of practical experience. The first debate saw the two main parties engaged in ‘slugging out’ an attrition campaign in order to reinforce their key point. This left an opportunity for the Liberals to freely make political gains and to effectively differentiate themselves with very little pressure from either of the other parties.

Will the public interest sustain?

It will be interesting to see if the public apatite for this kind of debate will be sustained throughout the campaign. The first debate was always going to be novel and attract attention, but will the second and third?

Impact on political strategy

We have already witnessed a shift in the Conservatives political campaign strategy, with a more direct and personal approach being adopted by David Cameron. However, what are the longer-term implications for campaign political strategy? I think one of the key things that will be remembered is never underestimate an adversary. The second is make sure you are well prepared but not so focused that you cannot react to the unexpected. Perhaps the most important point is to remember substance – politics is about the manipulation of the masses. Politicians must appeal to the masses, address the issues and communicate the political message in such a way that it galvanises the community into action, i.e. to vote for them.

Next steps

It will be interesting to see how the two main parties react to the next television debate and the second half of the election campaign. Are their campaign managers agile enough to address the unexpected impact of the leaders debate or will they stick to their old pre-election campaign strategy? Let’s wait and see.

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