The Futility Monster

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Posts Tagged ‘The Second Election Debate’

The Second Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 23, 2010 @ 11:17

Time for some fun with the second debate transcript. Before we begin, might I suggest opening my post from this time last week, because it’s very useful for comparative purposes.

There are a few surprises in store for this week’s word analysis of the debate. Last week we discovered Gordon Brown likes the word “got”, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg like to think. We also found out that Alastair Stewart did a great job of ensuring everyone got the chance to say about the same amount.

But first, the bit that we all enjoy, the Wordles!

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

What I found most striking this week compared with last is the fact that clearly some big lessons have been learned. Whilst Gordon Brown still has difficulty telling us what he thinks, he is now a bit more balanced. The similarity between the kind of words being used is also telling: they’re copying each other’s best bits to some degree. And no one did that more than Gordon, stealing Nick Clegg’s best lines from last week on several occasions. Squabbling children?

Starting with Nick Clegg, my first point is that he seemed to deviate from his winning formula from last week: merely setting out his stall. This time, it was more about the people. Not a mistake, but it clearly hasn’t worked as well. If you look at last week, that’s what both Cameron and Brown were doing, and Clegg’s difference from that path worked well. This time , he chose to be much broader, more scattergun, and it has caused his coherent message of “What I think” or “What the Liberal Democrats think” to be diluted. The prominence of the word “change” too clearly shows the Lib Dems have been watching Obama’s debate performances too much.

He also failed by getting too involved in what he would term the old politics. There is some evidence from the wiggly lines, both when I watched last night and from the 2008 US debates, that direct attacks on a person don’t really work, and can reflect badly on you instead. In the first debate, Nick hardly referred to the other leaders. This time, he said the word “Gordon” 18 times, and “David” 14 times (cf. 5 and 5 last time). That was a mistake. The winning formula for him is to ignore their pathetic attempts to bring him down to their level, and rise above it. That’s what I suggested yesterday, and I think that’s borne out here.

As for David Cameron, his performance was much more controlled. Thematically, he did better. Look at the size of the words “make”, “need”, “want” and “country” relative to the others. That has to be deliberate. A very careful strategy to set out the difference his party would make.

But guess what? Cameron learned from Clegg. References to Gordon? 8 (cf. 16 last time). References to Nick. Believe it or not, just 4. It’s such a reversal that it can’t have failed to influence the way the debate proceeded, and it too must have been deliberate. Now David Cameron was the man rising above the other two. His messaging was clearer. He likes the word “actually”. Clichéd, yes. Normal sounding? Most definitely. That’s what Clegg did last week. Cameron stole it from him.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was still Gordon Brown. He said the ugly words “got” or “get” a stunning 94 times (Clegg: 47; Cameron: 69). He is a clunker in every sense of the word. He implores. He demands. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that. It’s all very authoritarian. And yet, he definitely enriched his speaking this week. He talked about more issues, and had a more balanced approach. That’s not how I remember it; he seemed to repeat himself a lot last night, but the numbers here don’t lie.

To finish, let’s look at what has provided me with the biggest shock…

Second Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 6077 5599 5940
Sentences 319 295 299
Words per sentence 19.0 18.9 19.8
Flesch Reading Ease 66.4 69.3 65.9
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 8.7 8.2 8.9

Last week, all three of them managed about 5,500 words. This week, only David Cameron got that. Gordon Brown managed to speak an extra 500. No wonder he got more issues in, being more balanced.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg also spoke nearly 500 more words, after speaking the least last week (5476). That didn’t work out for him. It allowed him to say too much on some issues. He tried to be more robust, and get more involved. He was, I suppose, responding to the challenges that Brown and Cameron were demanding of him, whereas they largely ignored him last time. Their plan worked, but they dragged Clegg into their bearpit in the process. This week, he did not look and act sufficiently different to the others. He became more of a brawler. Hence the different, less positive, response from the electorate.

Clegg’s sentences also became longer, suggesting he got tied up more by trying to explain himself and complicated ideas. It doesn’t work. The electorate tune out.

David Cameron can feel a little hard done by, having not been given as fair a crack of the whip as the others. Which then makes it all the more remarkable that he did less with more. Verbosity is never rewarded in politics, and Cameron gets the plaudits here.

As last week, they all spoke at roughly the same level, with an almost uniform increase of about 0.4 in the grade level. Maybe the topics this week were more complex, making for slightly longer sentences, and definitely more syllables.

But that’s enough number crunching from me. I could go on, but this is long enough already.

So let’s finish with Adam Boulton’s wordle…

Adam Boulton

He clearly likes thanking people more than Alastair Stewart, anyway.

SOURCES

Please note my transcripts for each individual are cleaned up, no paragraphs, no line breaks, and no markers for where one part of the debate conversation began or ended. That’s the most useful form for textual analysis, and I share them with you above.

If you do anything else funky with this stuff, please place a link to it in the comments. I’d love to read it.

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The Second Debate Post-Mortem

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 22, 2010 @ 22:52

Sky definitely had a better set than ITV, but that was the only winner in their debate...

Watching the live poll results coming in on the Angus Reid website has been very illuminating.

I genuinely believe that Nick Clegg won the second debate. Brown was his usual self, never any different. He just does not look comfortable, and bores me to tears. He has no life or vigour. He does not radiate the change the country apparently wants according to opinion polls. He also shamelessly stole winning lines from Nick Clegg from last week. An embarrassment as prime minister. No thanks.

David Cameron was far more aggressive this time. He performed much more strongly, in my opinion. He too was his usual self. It was the Cameron I expected to turn up last week. He is articulate. He has good lines ready at the drop of a hat.

But looking purely at the reaction shots, looking at his behaviour, expressions, mannerisms – all of this, bear in mind, that most voters do – he never seems right. He seems agitated. Angry, even. The furrowed brow. The insincere, patrician tone.

On policy, Cameron and Brown did indeed choose to gang up Clegg. It worked in some respects. Brown had pre-scripted lines to use on Clegg. They’d been planning the Trident attack for a week. It seems, however, they’ve done it in such a way that allowed them to get away with it. It was more subtle and undermining his authority. A little patronising too.

Meanwhile, Clegg didn’t attack the rubbish robustly enough. He allowed Brown to get away with nonsense accusations of anti-Americanism, and when Adam Boulton disgracefully asked a personal question (against the rules) to Nick Clegg, he didn’t take the opportunity to destroy the allegation piece by piece. And he failed to remind everyone that it was the Tories who broke the link between pensions and earnings.

I think, on balance, the three of them all had a decent debate. Clegg hasn’t secured a major victory simply because the others have raised their game to such a level. That is bearing out in the polls. A YouGov one giving it to Cameron (which Sky dutifully gave huge prominence to), a ComRes one giving it to Clegg, and Angus Reid very finely balanced. More will surely follow.

But the biggest loser, tonight, I think was Sky.

The debate itself was more enjoyable this week, and yet the questions were appalling. The ones in the international section were an utter bore. Adam Boulton persisted with the Pope one despite it being a total non-issue. He was far too hands off and allowed too much squabbling, deviation and repetition. And why another question on immigration? Where was the specific question on Trident? Why were the leaders constantly allowed to go on ludicrous tangents without being brought back into line?

And that was what annoyed me. I’m pretty certain that Clegg was the only one who constantly brought the issue back to whatever it was the questioner asked. It was much more sincere, it was much more genuine, and felt like he was trying to engage with them. It felt like he really passionately cared about them, and his enthusiasm for public service was infectious. He finished extremely strongly, making up for a couple of verbal wobbles in the middle.

That doesn’t seem to have got fully across though. The nation, despite polls to the contrary, really does enjoy negativity. It’s clear that Brown and Cameron’s strategy of attacking the Clegg they embraced so strongly last week has had resonance.

But that’s the public for you. Very fickle. You can see that by watching the wiggly lines, which I’ve just done for 15 minutes on ITV! There’s always an immediate spike whenever someone injects a note of humanity into their speech. Either a friendly gesture, a smile, a pause for thought, a reflection, or even using normal turns of phrases.

Cameron will get the plaudits for this debate. He did a much better job, and perhaps for that he deserves the win.

But one thing it has done, is confirm that this is a very wide open race, temper those wild Lib Dem expectations, and maybe give the opportunity to surprise once more in the final bout…

Viewers? 8m maximum. 6m average. Something like that. We’ll see…

UPDATE – 23/4/10: Turns out only 4m people watched it after all. But that just means even more people will rely on the media to tell them “who won”. Bad.

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The Knives Are Out

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 22, 2010 @ 10:11

Adam Boulton looked like an onion even then. Just slightly browner on top.

Today’s handful of newspaper front pages (as seen here) show that the media have had enough of the Clegg love in. What surprises me is why it took so long…

The groundwork is clearly being laid for an assault on everything to do with the Lib Dems. The fact that the Telegraph was desperate enough to go back into its expenses CD demonstrates that fully. And yet, this little gem was about the best they could do. A few hundred pounds per month from a few private donors, all fully declared.

Desperate stuff. And, if it’s played wrongly, could easily be used by the Lib Dems as a sign of how the “establishment” from the “old politics” is ganging up on them. Mr Cameron’s friends, Mr Murdoch, and Alistair Campbell’s old boys all getting their favours called in by their masters in order to preserve the corrupt and cozy establishment which is feeling threatened by the surge of the wave of change heading its way.

I should be a political strategist. That one’s for you, Nick, and I hope you use it well. No charge, this time.

So bollocks to the media and their “have become the subject of intense scrutiny” lies, as if they are the neutral third parties bravely reporting the scrutiny of others.

And bollocks to the other parties too.

But I think they’re going to be much more clever.

Amidst the endless obsession with some volcanic ash, you may not have realised that tonight is the second Prime Ministerial Debate. Another 90 minutes of fun is headed our way.

Will Brown and Cameron get the knives out for Clegg?

They can’t. Only one of them will be able to. If they both do, Clegg will once more play the blinder he did last week: indict them all in an establishment conspiracy.

But which will go first? Whoever gets the luck of starting will surely make it clear from the outset that Clegg is not the change the country needs, and then yadda-yadda about a “dangerous” plan to scrap Trident, and a love for all things European.

Cameron has to attack, to rescue his damaged reputation from last week. He has to rescue his severely dented image, which last week was exposed by him standing there, absorbing all attacks and not dishing any out. His authority took a knock. He will be out to correct that.

Brown, instead, will throw in some sly digs at Clegg, which may be more successful. After all, he won’t want to get his hands too dirty in the mud-slinging. He will want to look… well, Prime Ministerial. And if Clegg overreacts by playing the establishment conspiracy hand too early, especially if Brown isn’t explicit or is very polite about it, it might weaken his standing as a level-headed, composed leader.

There are severe dangers for a front runner: all the focus is on you, and you have to live up to those expectations. It’s why David Cameron struggled so much last week.

But fortune is on Clegg’s side. The debate topic: international affairs, so the silly media agenda on expenses is out of order. Opportunity: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Strengths: Blair and Brown’s performances at Chilcot; a debate format that will only allow broad questions; Adam Boulton as moderator will not be able to further media agendas; and Cameron and Brown cannot ask questions of Clegg either

Clegg showed his skill as an underdog last week. Brown has been trying it for weeks, to some degrees of success, but hit his glass ceiling.

If Clegg can show he’s comfortable: by rising above the other two, by sticking up for his point of view, and by once more showing how different he’ll be, and giving another confident, calm performance, he will once more persuade viewers that he’s got what it takes. There’ll be no fireworks, but there’s no need for it. The good work has already been done.

Remember the Obama lesson: the first debate proved he was no bogey-man, but a sober, thoughtful, rational individual. The other two debates did nothing to change that narrative, and the more people looked, the more they liked.

The moral of the story: more of the same please, Nick. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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