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And the debate winner is… early polls pick clear winner

The candidates had barely begun debating Thursday night, when viewers started posting their opinions, picking winners and the losers, and providing their own informed – and sometimes uninformed – analysis of Britain’s first-ever televised debate.

Minutes after the three leaders of Britain’s main political kicked off Thursday night’s debate, enthusiastic Internet users started sharing their opinions via instant polling features organised by several British media organisations.

Instant polling reached new heights last night. Yet, the real impact of this on the final result of the elections is yet to be seen. Andrew Jones, a professor at the Robert Gordon University in the UK and a media expert, said: “This new approach to a general election reflects the growing pressure to constantly update data in a 24-hour news environment. There is no reason to believe that they are not an accurate snapshot of the campaign at any given moment. However, national trends can hide specific issues in different parts of the UK and need to be treated with some care.”

Opinions expressed on the Web seem to agree that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had won the country’s first-ever televised general election debate. Shortly after the debate, an instant poll organised by Channel 4 declared Clegg the winner with an approval rating of 57%, followed by Labour candidate and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown who obtained 28%. Cameron came last with 13%.

A YouGov poll for popular British tabloid The Sun, however, put Conservative leader David Cameron in second place with 29% of the vote, ahead of Brown, who came in last with 19%. Once again, Clegg emerged the winner with a 51% approval rating.
ITV also recorded real-time audience reaction from a sample of 4,000 people representing UK voters. Clegg was deemed the winner by 43%. David Cameron came second scoring 26% followed by Brown with 20%. Eleven percent said none of the three emerged as clear winner.

‘Rate the Debate’ on Facebook

Twitter, the popular microblogging site, featured a lively array of instant judgments. “I give Clegg the winner's medal. Great performance against the more experienced Brown and Cameron,” read a tweet posted by a user identified as “mickthehack”.

Another Twitter user identified as paulcolgan101 commented on Brown’s performance: “In my opinion (must stress) Brown came off really well in that debate, he was great! Which is the opposite of Mr Cameron's poor performance”.
Facebook users couldn’t use the new “rate the debate” tool due to technical problems on the night. According to the organisers, with over 43,000 fans following Democracy UK (Facebook’s UK election page), the "rate the debate" application experienced a groundswell of users.

Despite the technical hitch, frustrated viewers shared their opinions on the wall of Democracy UK. A user named “Osian Llwyd Jones” said, “Nick winning by a mile. Shows that the only thing that's stopped Lib Dems (sic) in the past is a platform (or money) for their voice to be heard.”

Following the debate, Facebook users also gave Clegg a resounding victory. The Lib Dem leader’s Facebook fan page saw its membership double overnight, from 6,063 before the debate to over 12,443 this morning. The party’s own fan page also witnessed a boom in the number of members, rising from 17,978 to over 25,084. According to an overnight poll of more than 1,000 people on the social networking site, Clegg was by far the most successful candidate.
Earlier this week, the three parties published their campaign manifestos. With only three weeks to go before the May 6 elections, live televised debates are a potential tool for all of the parties to utilise and maybe a key way to change the game.

However, the significance of Thursday's instant polls remains unclear. “The variety of data published after last night's debate tended to focus on the performance of each party leader. This is new territory. It is not yet clear how far that will correspond to firm political support. It will take a couple of days to see if there is any significant impact in the overall position of each party,” Jones commented.

Sky News will be hosting the next debate on April 22 on foreign affairs. The final debate will be broadcasted by BBC1 on April 29, where the topic under discussion will be the economy. Whether this innovation will have a direct and significant impact on the polls on May 6 remains to be seen.


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