Friday, May 18, 2007

The Great Election Debate

Last night was the much-heralded “great TV debate” between party leaders and candidates for Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny. RTE reported that average audience for the 80-minute debate averaged almost 1m viewers.

While both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael both claimed victory for their own man, the general media concensus was that Bertie won the debate by a relatively narrow margin, as captured by the headlines in the three Irish broadsheets this morning:

Irish Times
“Kenny scores on confidence and Ahern on detail

Irish Independent
Ahern shades it but fails to land knockout

Irish Examiner
No killer punch line means a messy draw

But Enda Kenny may well have been the real winner. Expectations of Kenny were pretty low, given his often wooden performances in the Dail. The greatest fear of the alternative coalition partners was that Kenny would blow it last night in the head-to-head with the seasoned campaigner that is Bertie Ahern.

So there must have been great relief that his demeanour and performance were quite good, although he was caught a couple of times by challenges on policy detail.

Six of us sat down to watch the debate, which started at 9.40pm, in my living-room, lubricated by a little wine. After paying some attention for the first 10-15 minutes, we found that no-one was listening to the debate as we all discussed the election, Bertie house, how the two boys looked like they’d been togged out by the same tailor (which turned out to be the case - the ubiquitous Louis Copeland) etc etc.. After about 40 minutes, 4 of us decamped to the pub, where the debate was showing on the big screen tv. However, we couldn’t hear it from where we were sitting - indeed only 2 or 3 customers were standing near the tv actually following the debate. Mind you, the pub itself was very quiet last night, so perhaps people were staying at home to watch it.

So I saw the great debate, but I heard very little of what was said. Only one week to go till the election, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact it has on the opinion polls. I suspect only the “undecided” are up for grabs, existing supporters of either man will have seen him as the winner. Certainly, nothing emerged which is likely to change voting intentions.

There are two polls to be published this weekend, but the fieldwork was completed before the Thursday night debate. I think the Irish Times plan to publish a poll on Monday which will have been taken after the debate.

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