I can tell you who won the studio audience’s vote – Bill Shorten by a country mile. 48 undecided voters were selected by YouGov Galaxy who run Newspoll for The Australian. The West Australian reports:
- After the debate, 25 emerged giving their vote to Bill Shorten, with 12 giving theirs to Scott Morrison.
11 of the audience members said they could not decide.
However, a television experience in a lounge room is very different from the experience of a studio audience. My immediate reaction was:
- irrespective of what the audience thinks, Shorten won the debate with daylight second. It’s seldom as decisive as it was this time.
To understand why I said that, let me tell you about the great debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon for the 1960 US presidential election. As I remember it, Kennedy was articulate and charming, whereas Nixon had a 5 o’clock shadow on his face, and the make-up started to melt under the heat of the TV arc lights, so that he looked shifty and sinister. Professional debaters scored it to Nixon on the basis of what they actually said, but people who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy won hands down.
This account The day politics and TV changed forever says Nixon had been sick, but the reasoning is along similar lines.
- Throughout the 60-minute program set in a Chicago TV studio, the 43-year-old Kennedy “looked to be radiating health,” said presidential historian Robert Gilbert. Kennedy wore a dark suit and had a wide smile and vivid tan.
Nixon, on the other hand, appeared pale and a bit listless. He had just gotten out of the hospital, where he had lost weight after a knee injury. In a gray, ill-fitting suit and hastily added pancake makeup, Nixon looked — even if he did not necessarily sound — a pale shadow of the aggressive, composed senator from Massachusetts.
Rational people may well agree with historian Henry Steele Commager who said he hoped “TV debates will be eliminated from future presidential campaigns” after the 1960 debate:
- “The present formula of TV debate is designed to corrupt the public judgment and, eventually, the whole political process,” he wrote. “The American presidency is too great an office to be subjected to the indignity of this technique.”
But we are stuck with it and the article’s author, Greg Botelho, is right, politics and TV changed forever on that day.
Going into the debate, I thought Morrison would be more agile verbally, and to me he had better presentation skills, when he wasn’t being filmed playing 25 different kinds of sport.
The Conversation asked three experts to give judgement of the debate after the event.
Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne said democracy was the winner and sat pretty much on the fence.
Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW, said:
- Scott Morrison won the first leaders’ debate hands down. He was clearer and more articulate on all issues, and took the debate up to the opposition leader.
I don’t think it ended that way, and I don’t agree that:
- Shorten looked like a man under pressure, following the Newspoll today showing his lead narrowing to 51-49.
Morrison, by contrast, was at ease and relished the opportunity to show his command of policy detail…
He’s not even up to speed on the Newspoll, which wasn’t quite what it looks. More on that soon.
Marian Sawer, Emeritus Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University said, not much to see here, but this was interesting:
The style was also predictable, with Morrison getting in some folksy references to cars and footy, and Shorten presenting himself as more in touch with the lives of working families, their childcare costs and lack of wages growth.
Shorten came across as the more consensual leader, saying he agreed with the government on some issues. He got a round of applause when he praised Morrison for his mental health policies. He did have some digs, though, about preference deals and Clive Palmer’s digital wallpaper being sent around Australia while still not paying his workers.
I thought Shorten’s “digs” were hitting the mark when Morrison was ranting to the point of incoherence towards the end.
I thought Morrison had the best of it for the first few questions, and the moderator was doing a better job than the ABC normally would, albeit he was allowing Morrison to interrupt and go well over. A timing count would have seen Morrison 60-40 at least.
On climate change Shorten missed some opportunities, and on asylum seekers, he took the easy road of emphasising consensus when there are real differences in the policies.
The debate turned when it came to franking credits, which was a surprise. Probably missed by most, we had the rank dishonesty of Morrison calling people with self-managed super funds pensioners. In the jargon of superannuation, after you turn 70, I think, you are required to take pension from you superannuation capital, again I think (I’m not personally involved because I have no super) a minimum of 5% pa of your super balance, paid quarterly. But I have never heard the retirees using this facility called pensioners, the payment is a pension but they remain superannuants. Some of these ‘pensioners’ get more than a million dollars a year.
When Morrison accused Shorten of lying about pensioners being involved, when he would have known that Labor’s policy is very specifically that no-one with a full or part pension is affected by their franking credits policy, it was a signal that the gloves were off, that Morrison was prepared to say anything it takes, at the expense of the truth if necessary. Somehow this came through in his body language.
This is what I wrote on Mark’s Facebook:
but ScoMo did himself in by interrupting, being rude and emotional, and worst sin, turning the side of his face to the camera and looking at Bill. So Bill, smiling into the camera, and being courteous throughout, became the dominant figure, where raising his eyebrow had meaning. ScoMo looked like an upset puppy yapping at his master. I couldn’t believe what I saw, but Bill won with daylight second, irrespective of what the studio audience might think. In the end ScoMo in summary was out of gas, and then at the bonus question at the end Bill declined to be negative about him. (Slightly edited)
It was notable that when asked to say something he admired about Shorten, Morrison was obviously caught short, and could only offer that Shorten, like himself, represented the people in parliament.
I would love to hear what an expert in body language said about the debate. I recall one such of Rudd and Howard in 2007, and it was illuminating. Shorten was told to keep watching the camera, and he did. Morrison will not make the same mistake next time. Shorten was able to use facial expressions, like a raised eyebrow, to counter the stream of words coming at him, especially about Clive Palmer. Shorten was obviously told to smile a lot, and he managed to make it seem natural most of the time, once looking as though he was about to p*ss himself laughing.
Not everyone saw the debate the same. In late night talkback, one woman saw Morison as the very model of courtesy, and Shorten the one who rudely interrupted.
In the Courier Mail this morning, I was surprised to see regular political reporter Renee Viellaris say that Shorten was “more sincere” and “more connected with the audience”. If Morrison wants voters to see him as a league-loving, curry cooking, daggy dad about to win an election, according to the ABC, he may in the end struggle with that.
How much any of this matters is hard to say. The conventional wisdom is that you can lose an election in a leaders’ debate, but you don’t win one. Neither contestant did themselves irreparable damage. Pre-poll voting started on Monday, and it is happening in record numbers. Perhaps as many as 40% will vote that way.
A Morgan poll, reported at the ABC found that 76% had made up their mind before the election was called.
- While comparisons are an inexact science, pollster John Scales of JWS Research conducted similar research in the wake of the 2016 election that painted a very different picture.
Those results showed almost the reverse of the current numbers, with only 31 per cent deciding before the start of the 2016 campaign and 65 per cent deciding during. A further 4 per cent could not say when they made up their minds.
- A Roy Morgan SMS poll found 76 per cent of voters had already decided who they would vote for when the election was called
- The poll found 43.5 per cent of voters were paying “not much” attention to the campaign
- The poll found Queensland voters were the most engaged with the campaign so far
ABC has done a fact check of some of the claims made in the debate.