A 7-way debate in a two party system

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As the dust settles after last night’s seven-way leaders debate, there is one thing that has been made clear: nobody actually won.

Polls following the debate, such as YouGov, showed the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon to have clinched it, taking 28 per-cent of the post-debate polls. Behind her came Farage (20 per-cent), Cameron (18 per-cent), and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood last at (4%).

Both ICM/Guardian and Comres also released polls at the end of the night, which showed Farage, Cameron, Miliband, and Sturgeon fairly tied. On average, all polls considered, it was in fact David Cameron who came out on top – by 0.5%.

Yet it seemed that social media was the true winner last night. Almost a million tweets were sent about the debates last night, 1.6 million over the 24 hours before the end of the debate. From some of the tweets last night it was clear that Sturgeon had done well: some English voters were saying they would vote for Sturgeon, but did not want to live in Scotland.

The night did give the minority parties a significant chance to appeal to voters who had not yet heard them, with Wood, Sturgeon, and Bennett all putting forward their cases for anti-austerity.

There was one heckler in the latter half of the debate, who interrupted Cameron’s speech on homeless people and the military. Cameron rolled it off, though, thanking the woman for her “good point”, and rattling off his view on helping ex-servicepeople.

Both Cameron and Miliband were slightly more reserved than expected, allowing the minority parties to push through their voices. But also, the three women on the stage formed an alliance across the debate floor, with an anti-austerity buzz always ringing through between them.

What is interesting about last night’s debate is we saw the first true sign that the traditional First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system is well and truly crumbling.

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Positivity and negativity on Twitter – Sturgeon receives 82% positive tweets.

For anyone still saying the the election is a two horse race is ignorant to the political climate, and do the electorate a disservice. You cannot have a seven-way debate in a FPTP election system.

It is hard to say whether the debate will have any real impact on the polls. As many have already said, the leaders did more to strengthen their core voters than appeal to undecided ones. Surprisingly the debate did not become a shouting match that was expected; instead we saw measured attacks, and some solid debate.

All the leaders performed well in their own way; Farage appealed to the opinions of people in their living room, Cameron let everyone know he had a “long term economic plan”, and the minority parties had a chance to show themselves to the rest of the nation.

Has Cameron made a mistake not opting for a debate format like last time? It is true that the Welsh and Scottish nationalists will eat into Labour’s vote, and Cameron did come out on top overall, if only by a small amount. Would he have done so well in a head-to-head, with Miliband doing well in recent media interviews?

We will all find out in five weeks time.

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