Post-debate polls lead the news agenda – unless Ed Miliband wins

Obsessive focus on poll results is quietly shelved when Labour is ahead


A snap Survation poll for the Mirror newspaper has found that 35 per cent of respondents said Ed Miliband ‘won’ last night’s BBC debate, giving him a clear victory over his rival party leaders.

But you wouldn’t know it from the coverage this morning in some newspapers, despite their having changed their front pages overnight.

You’ll remember that both the previous ‘debates’ – the Paxman interviews with Miliband and Cameron on March 26 and the seven-way leaders’ debate on April 2 – were reported with heavy emphasis on the polling results about who ‘won’ and who made the best impression on voters.

After the leaders’ debate in April, the Sun newspaper ran a front page story claiming Ed Miliband had blown his election chances by failing to top the polls in the seven-way chatter-fest. The Telegraph ran ‘Miliband flops as outsiders shine’ on its front page, emphasising the poll results, as did the Times, the Guardian and the Independent. 

So today’s lack of interest in the polls makes for a rather dramatic contrast.

It’s also worth noting that the poll not only shows Miliband ahead of his fellow debtors, but a general swing in his favour against prime minister David Cameron, (who did not take part in the debate). In a straight contest between Miliband and Cameron, 45 per cent said they would vote for Miliband as prime minister, against 40 percent for Cameron.

Aside for the sins of omission, there are those of commission. An Ipsos Mori poll yesterday taken before the debate which had Labour ahead with 35 per cent was written up in the Evening Standard as ‘Miliband poll blow’.

Focus on these imperfect measurements can be trivial, misleading and a way to avoid discussion of ideas. When it comes to debates, polls are plagued with hazy stupidities (how can one ‘win’ a debate with no formal motion or vote?) and often amount to little more than a measurement of impressions, reducing political argument into a contest between performing seals.

That said, if the media insists on judging debates by poll results, they ought to be consistent. And the only poll on last night’s debate, conducted by a respected polling company, says Miliband smashed it.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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