UPDATE: Nick Clegg wins Leaders’ Debate shocker
Tonight’s Leaders’ Debate is historic and very exciting to those of us who don’t just follow politics at election time. But we should check ourselves and remember that most people tune into politics only when they come to vote, which is why opinion polls held months (or years) from an election mean very little.
Knocking on doors in the marginal constituency where I live a few months ago did not bring out hoards of eager voters with killer questions on matters of policy. The most popular question was: ‘So when is this election, then?’
This explains why the polls have narrowed as the election has approached. Respondents are less glib and more thoughtful. They’ve had a look at the Tories and stepped away.
So when it comes to the Leaders’ Debate, its worth remembering that most voters won’t tune in, they’ll go off the reviews. And for most who watch it will be the first time they’ve actually seen Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the other guy in action. They’ve heard that Gordon Brown is crap and that David Cameron is spectacular. That’s great, because expectations are very important.
If David Cameron doesn’t run rings around Gordon Brown, he’ll have disappointed his audience, who will reappraise. Cameron needs to demolish Brown just to stand still.
The winner will be declared on the basis of the first opinion poll to come out post-debate. With the Tories already riding high, a lot’s being asked of Cameron, while just the slightest narrowing of the Tory lead will result in Brown being declared the surprise winner. Hearing that Brown has won, those who didn’t watch will follow suit and Labour will gain momentum.
To be fair, there will be a lot of pressure on Brown to repeat the trick and it will be harder to beat Cameron a second and third time. If the Tories can keep their cool, they might be able to draw level. But my reckoning is that Brown’s surprise victory tonight will prove decisive.