The leaders' TV debates are over, and everyone has an opinion on whether David Cunliffe or John Key did best overall. Rather than poll viewers after the fact we looked at how they reacted during the debates themselves?
Throughout the three televised Key v Cunliffe debates over the last few weeks, NZ Herald readers have reacted live via the Rate the Debate dial. This tool, powered by Kiwi start-up Buzzdial, gives any viewer with a web browser on a mobile or desktop device the opportunity to "buzz" positively or negatively, moment to moment, as the candidates speak, and see everyone's collective reaction live.
The dial was open to anyone who wanted to have their say during the debates, engaging around 2.5% of the viewing public. We can now reveal not just whom the audience preferred overall, but also which issues were the most interesting for the audience - and which issues the candidates were strongest on.
FIRST TVNZ DEBATE (Aug 28)
Moderated by Mike Hosking, the first debate touched on a variety of issues, but was dominated by the economy, housing, and foreign ownership of land. Despite foreign ownership being given more time than any other issue, it generated almost the least engagement of the debate.
The strongest buzzing from the audience came when either Key and Cunliffe spoke about minimum wage, followed closely by discussing matters of leadership, partly with respect to the fallout from Dirty Politics. Kiwis love good sportsmanship, so it was no surprise that they reacted very positively to the two opponents stating what they admire about each other. Both candidates' peak positive responses from the audience were while answering a viewer's question about crippling personal debt and loan sharks.
Key's Top Moment (68% positive): "In government, we've absolutely dealt with that [loan sharks]."
Cunliffe's Top Moment (79% positive): "We've long signaled that we have concerns about loan sharks."
Key's Worst Moment (69% negative): "We've created 83,000 jobs in the last term. There's 120,000 New Zealanders in more employment than when we took over."
Cunliffe's Worst Moment (53% negative): "I think there is some degree of just not being as much on air, because this has been a discussion between the Prime Minister and about his team." [Explaining why Dirty Politics hasn't helped him in the polls.]
TV3 DEBATE (Sep 10)
The audience of John Campbell's major-parties leaders debate was quite consistently engaged on all topics, only really losing interest when the candidates talked about the polls.
The economy and small businesses narrowly edged out other topics in terms of engagement, and they were some of John Key's strongest issues of the debate. Cunliffe was favoured by the audience across all issues, but that support softened on most economic matters, except for the issue of capital gains tax, where Cunliffe's support remained solid.
The clearest response from the audience came with discussion of welfare and the wealth gap - Key's weakest and Cunliffe's strongest topics of the debate.
Key's Top Moment (69% positive): "Who pays that $2? The answer is 97% of small businesses across the country."
Cunliffe's Top Moment (71% positive): Explaining his four-point summary of how to transition people from welfare to work.
Key's Worst Moment (91% negative): "There are 260,000 children living below the line that's defined. It was 290, up to 310, under the previous Labour government."
Cunliffe's Worst Moment (51% negative): "Nobody minds the fact that Mr Key's government have got us through some of the rough waters, and we too want to get the books to black, but we are not satisfied with the growing gaps, the lack of vision and the lack of fairness of this economy."
FINAL TVNZ DEBATE (Sep 17)
The final debate was only 30 minutes long, three days out from the election and two days after Edward Snowden's revelations, so it's no surprise that there was an emphasis on trust, spying, polls and coalition prospects. It's probably also no surprise that a total of more than two minutes was dedicated to the candidates talking over each other, making the dial impossible to interpret at times!
Once again, while the audience preferred Cunliffe to Key on all topics, Key's support grew and Cunliffe's softened on the topic of the economy - except when they talked about unemployment and jobs.
More than half of the debate's time was around polls and coalition prospects, and while viewers lost interest when the candidates discussed numbers, they were keener than in previous debates to engage when the other parties came up.
Key's Top Moment (60% positive): "By definition, we don't want to tell the very people who want to steal our secrets or spy on us the things we do to protect New Zealanders."
Cunliffe's Top Moment (87% positive): "I asked the Prime Minister if he would write into law the assurance that he gave people orally, which was that there would never be a case when a New Zealander's personal information without a judge."
Key's Worst Moment (75% negative): "Let's take one step back. Why do we have these intelligence agencies? Why did Helen Clark back them?"
Cunliffe's Worst Moment (61% negative): "I think we're gonna win Napier."
What the viewers cared most about
1. Leadership/Dirty Politics
2. Small Business
3. Wealth Gap
4. The Economy
5. Minimum Wage
What the candidates talked most about
1. The Economy
2. Housing/Home Ownership
3. Other Parties and Potential Coalitions
4. Foreign Ownership of Land
John Key's strongest talking points
1. Support for Gay Marriage
2. Leadership/Dirty Politics
4. Loan Sharks/Personal Debt
5. The Polls
David Cunliffe's strongest talking points
1. Wealth Gap
3. Loan Sharks/Personal Debt
4. Capital Gains Tax
5. Minimum Wage
The issues viewers responded most positively to?
3. Loan Sharks/Personal Debt
4. Wealth Gap
Viewers buzzed through the three televised Key v Cunliffe debates, and they while they consistently favoured David Cunliffe, each candidate had stronger and weaker issues in the eyes of the audience. Both candidates also received roughly equal speaking time (53% Key, 47% Cunliffe) across the debates. Viewers also reacted negatively to bickering and argument, accusations and justifications.
However, the Rate the Debate dial showed us that what politicians discuss most is not always what Kiwis are most interested in hearing about. For example, viewers of the debate were least engaged around discussions of polls, yet the candidates spent more time on the polls than on small businesses and the wealth gap combined, which were clearly important to the viewers.
App users: tap the link below to use the dial