Goff got a Labour-friendly debate and Key a National-friendly panel on tonight's TV3 leaders' debate. Given voters' low expectations of the Labour leader, it was his night as the worm ate him up with a spoon

For me, Goff won three of the four segments, but Key finished strongest; Goff won on policy, Key won on coalitions.That's my call on the TV3 debate this evening.

If the true measure was how undecideds would have reacted, I think on the night Goff would have to be most pleased. Expectations are vital in debates, and Goff has been dismissed by many voters as too familiar, too pointy-headed, too much the career politician. But that wasn't the Goff on display tonight. He kept his smile and was more positive than he was on the first TV One debate – you don't go negative in the final week.

But Goff would have over-performed for many viewers. An example of that is this story he's found in recent days, of his wife being born in the shadow of a state asset – the Mangakino dam – and how his father-in-law built it for New Zealanders. That's a powerful narrative, stressing the party's only-hope policy and making him appear much more likeable and everyman.

But to be fair, he made better use of statistics and facts, too. Lord knows what debate Paul Henry was watching (and why didn't TV3 balance a former National Party candidate with a different point of view? Putting a rabi right-winger beside a political scientist who determinedly doesn't like expressing opinions and an analytical political editor was a mistake, even allowing for Campbell's left leanings). Goff was quoting Treasury reports like they were going out of fashion.

Key started slowly, surprisingly poor on the economy. While he got much closer to Goff on partial state asset sales, that ship has sailed; voters don't want them sold. He was vague on most policy points. It seemed to be me he's just got bored with being on-message for so long, he almost can't bear hearing himself say the same old slogans.

He was strongest on Winston Peters (and warning about debt). He was able to deflect the ACT farce effectively and out Goff squarely on the defensive over New Zealand First. Although can he really keep getting away with describing ACT as "dependable" and "stable"?

From a TV point of view, Goff pauses for a slip second when he's not on sure footing, and it makes him seem a bit shifty. Key desperately has to do something about his listening face. He somehow got away with it in the first debate, but surely some mainstream comment will emerge this time. He looks bored, condescending and slightly baffled. That's a hard mix to pull off! Something to work on.

While we're on the TV part of it, the team at TV3 opted for more debate on fewer topics. It's always a hard choice – cover more topics in less detail or fewer topics in more. And there are only different ways of failing on that – you get flak whichever way you go.

But what stuck out to me was the topics chosen – the economic debate was through the lens of the underclass and poverty, then a whole section on partial state asset sales. Those are very Labour-friendly topics. I imagine the Nats will be rather peeved with TV3's editorial choices there; but then they owned the panel.

The worm peaked and bottomed out with Goff. But it sat well into the positive more with Goff than it did with Key, and my memory is that it's two highest moments were when Goff talked about after-hours healthcare for kids and Labour's $5000 tax-free policy.

At least, I think that was with the studio worm. Goff won the studio worm, no doubt. Why? Was it the audience? Their expectations? Goff's performance? Or something lacking in Key's? Probably a bit of each.

The at-home worm mostly flat-lined, however. Not enough people downloaded the app? I wonder how many. Were the people at home just bored? Or had they changed channel?

And it re-inforced one thing we've learnt about Key in all the recent polling. Voters love him, but don't really trust him. It tended to head south when Key talked about his honesty and transparency. I don't get how that works – 'top bloke, would love to have a beer with him, wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him'.

The most uncomfortable moment was Goff on Peters.

The dumbest was Key saying that getting our national debt down would stop family violence.

The fact-check moment of the night was whether or not there are more jobs after three years of National – one of the leaders is wrong on that one.

The challenge of the night will be whether Key goes back to McGehan Close and to its neighbouring school. I'm guessing not.

Off you go now, tell me where I'm wrong.

Comments (20)

by Russell Garbutt on November 21, 2011
Russell Garbutt

God only knows why TV3 got Paul Henry to appear,  He confirmed his inability to be an analyst of any sort,  The difficulty is any broadcaster than tries to interpret what the people are thinking and doing is doomed to failure,

 

Key looked flustered and more or less confirmed what I decided - as a really really swinging voter - a few days ago.  I don't trust him,  And I've voted so I can't change my mind over the next few days.

by Tim Watkin on November 21, 2011
Tim Watkin

Russell, how can you be a swinging voter and have already voted? By defintion you're the least swinging voter there could ever be! Agree that Henry didn't work, though – talented broadcaster, but no analyst. It's all for branding, not expertise, sadly.

Although I'm dying to know how you voted given your trust issues, I won't ask...

by Chris de Lisle on November 22, 2011
Chris de Lisle

The suddenness with which the at-home worm jumped when it *did* jump suggests to me that there were very few people using it.
I don't understand why they felt the need to flick between the two of worms (spending large amounts of time with neither). Why couldn't they have had both of them crawling on the one graph (at-home in green and studio in yellow, say)?

Goff tended to stay above the median line, and enjoyed some very high peaks, I disagree that these coincided with policy. It seemed to me that he performed best when making his case that all is not well for the poor in this country, rather than when he discussed his plans to deal with it (With the exception of the tax cut). I was really glad to see that that sort of thing did well with the worm; it suggests that the beneficiary-bashing anti-poor attitudes which seem so common on the 'net are not at the mainstream opinion (Depending of course on how closely that studio audience really mirrors that opinion, I would be interested to know how TV3 selects them). I suppose that others might see it as indicating tall poppy syndrome and a cause for concern...

I believe Goff also had the lowest worm point, as he blustered on Winston Peters. Key was sensible to turn the inevitable attack on Act into a Winston Peters issue; Goff could have been more prepared to keep the discussion centred on Act, to dominate that issue as he dominated the early part of the debate.

(Anyway, personally, I can't imagine anything worse than being stuck in one of these debates; I would crumble like apple. I thought both of their performances showed that they are both more able than they sometimes get credit for)

by Craig Ranapia on November 22, 2011
Craig Ranapia

Off you go now, tell me where I'm wrong.

I don't think worms can hold spoons, let alone eat anything up with them. :)

But, yeah, I think whoever did Goff's debate prep have saved themselves from whatever post-election recriminations go down next week.  His presentation is mediocre at best, but for once he managed to stay on message with the worm-ready talking points.  Key was a lot more defensive than he needed to be if he'd actually been properly briefed to respond to (let's be frank) Labour attack lines that have been out there for weeks.

And a suggestion for whoever is moderating the next one: Cut off their damn mics if they insist on shouting over each other.  If politicians have to talk a load of tosh, I'd rather it be audible tosh.

by Russell Garbutt on November 22, 2011
Russell Garbutt

Tim, I think that I can claim the mantle of a swinging voter quite easily.  I used to belong to a major political party, campaigned for that party, but through what I believed were really wrong directions pursued by that party, I become uncommitted to it's return,

I then changed my vote and became part of what was labelled as a land-slide.  Since that time - many years ago, I have changed my "party" vote many times.

This time, right up until I went into the polling booth, I was pretty undecided.  It wasn't until faced with the voting paper that I made my mind up and when I thought about it afterwards the direction I went was down to trust.  There was one leader that in my view I could trust a bit more than the rest and so thats the way I went.

I hope that my decision is reflected in the overall result as we all do when we vote.

In terms of the TV presentation though, there does need to be a close eye on this "summing up" by so-called experts.  People have watched it for an hour or so and they don't need some over-rated "broadcaster" telling them what they've seen.  I heard Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning mouthing off about his interpretation of what people should be thinking about the debate and it got right up my nose.  These people may be interesting entertainers but they are neither qualified nor able to provide neutral comment.  Hosking's rant this morning was nothing more than a thinly disguised commercial for Key.

by Tim Watkin on November 22, 2011
Tim Watkin

Fair enough Russell, I was just winding you up!

Talk radio, by defintion, is there to talk about the talking points that most people are talking about. And they mostly tend to the right, here and in most countries.

by Tim Watkin on November 22, 2011
Tim Watkin

Craig, who's mic do you turn off? You'd be damned for lack of balance. The moderator has to cut them off himself.

It sounds straight forward, Craig, but think about how many potential topics you have to prep for, how many potential attack lines on each topic, and then you have to bring them to mind instantly and under pressure. I'm always amazed there aren't more Rick Perry moments!

by Dave Boyce on November 22, 2011
Dave Boyce

I believe the worm was activated by no less than 65 people!  Where does the media seriously take the view they can act with any semblance of credibility with 65 viewers?  So in perspective the whole 'worm turn' is statistically invalid.  If there are 12% of voters undecided thats 400,000 people or approximately 400 per electorate and list seat (pro rata) and this means that 16/1000th of undecided voters controlled the worm.  No wonder it did a St Vitus dance.

by Tim Watkin on November 22, 2011
Tim Watkin

Dave, not sure if you're aware that there were two worms... There were 65 "undecided" voters in the studio audience, but anyone with an i-something at home could download an app and play along from their living room, as I understand it. The studio audience went up and down and whichway, but the at home line hardly blipped.

Were thousands of people countering each other? Or did only six people in Grey Lynn and someone's Gran in Timaru download?

by Pete Sime on November 22, 2011
Pete Sime

It should be remembered when it comes to Winston Peters is that he is always going to be very unpopular. Even if NZF makes the 5% threshold, it still means that 19 people in 20 did not vote for him. Same thing (even moreso) for National with Act. So discussion of those other parties by the big two are always going to have an overall negative reaction. A better play from Goff would have been pointing to his experience in coalition governments over 1999-2008 and pointing to stability then.

by tussock on November 22, 2011
tussock

@Dave, statistics doesn't care about ratios much. 63 people from a population of 400k is +-12% at the most (95% likely so, given a random sample).

But they don't use random samples, they use representative ones, which should be slightly more accurate still, as a kind of poll-of-polls from sub-groups, as long as you're randomly selecting within each represented group.

When the worm hit ~75% positive, it's +-10%, and so really should be ~65-85%. Here's a toy to play with the numbers.

http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html

But that worm? Most people don't like the small parties (Lab and Nat do get most of the votes, eh), most people are basically compassionate, most people don't want to hear the details but would rather trust you to have them right, and so on.

by SPM on November 22, 2011
SPM

Tim why do you say "partial state asset sales, that ship has sailed; voters don't want them sold" when the polls are showing that not to be the case?

by Russell Garbutt on November 22, 2011
Russell Garbutt

Tim, talkback radio is one thing, but when the "host" spends a good couple of minutes telling the audience his or her views on something as basic as an election and can, or is given the power, to broadcast a personal opinion, then to my mind a line that was never crossed just a few years ago, has been crossed. Hosking and Henry and others of that ilk are perfectly entitled to hold an opinion, but it seems to me that if these pair were employed by a newspaper then what was published - unless it was plainly labelled as opinion - would be the position of the paper.

Is it therefore the position of Newstalk ZB that they are happy and condone Hosking's position? Hmm, not sure. It just raises this ogre of some people being placed in privileged positions that use that status to further their personal agendas. Or do we assume that people that listen to talkback are wise enough to hold their own views without being told what they should be thinking?

I must say that Newstalk ZB is usually the last place to go to get actual news, but every now and then it is interesting to see what they and similar outfits dish up...

by MikeM on November 22, 2011
MikeM

"I believe the worm was activated by no less than 65 people!  Where does the media seriously take the view they can act with any semblance of credibility with 65 viewers?  So in perspective the whole 'worm turn' is statistically invalid."

Arguably it's nothing more than an entertainment device, anyway, so  I'm not sure the statistical integrity of the worm is of much relevance.  What practical use is it for serious debate viewers to see what others are thinking in this kind of presentation instead of actually listing to what the candidates are saying for themselves?  Even regular polls aren't very meaningful except internally for political parties to measure how well they're getting their message to voters, whereas the rest of it is just turning the election into an exciting "race" metaphor for bloggers and journalists to get excited over and sell advertising.

by Tim Watkin on November 23, 2011
Tim Watkin

SPM, are you talking about this poll or this poll? Sorry, but the polls are showing people don't want assets sold, so not sure what you're on about.

Russell, I'm no expert on talk radio, but I think those lines have long been crossed. Hosts take a position to spark callers, so I think it's always been one long op-ed page.

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