Anyone hoping for a clear winner to emerge from the seven-way leaders’ debate will be disappointed as polls show remarkably different results.
Surveys gauging the immediate reaction after last night’s performances presented a range of winners and several draws that made the picture of public opinion leading into the election look more confusing than ever.
An average of four surveys carried out by different companies put Labour’s Ed Miliband and Prime Minister David Cameron as joint winners on 22 per cent of the vote, one slim point ahead of Nigel Farage.
The Ukip leader was a close third on 21 per cent and the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon was hot on his heels with 20 per cent.
The “Cleggmania” of 2010 looked long forgotten for the Deputy Prime Minister, who lagged behind at 9 per cent.
But Nick Clegg was at least a few points clear of Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru, languishing at 4 and 3 per cent respectively.
The individual polls presented a range of “winners”, with YouGov showing Ms Sturgeon clearly victorious on 28 per cent, despite the fact that her party is not fielding candidates in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Not one member of a YouGov panel held earlier this week could name the SNP leader, the Guardian reported, but by the end of the evening Google data showed that the sixth most searched question was: “Can I vote for the SNP?”
Survation tied Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband on 25 per cent and ICM put the Labour leader a shade ahead on 25 per cent to the Tory Prime Minister’s 24 per cent.
ComRes found a three-way tie between the Conservative, Labour and Ukip leaders – all on 21 per cent – with Ms Sturgeon just a point behind.
Andrew Hawkins, the chairman of ComRes, said the differing poll results could be explained by a number of factors, including how companies weighted the votes and the fact responses were taken within minutes of the debate finishing.
“With seven leaders it’s very different beast to the three-leader debate we had in 2010,” he told The Independent.
“Even though it was two hours long, they had so little time to land any body blows on each other or gain any sort of advantage, so it’s very difficult to make an impact.”
Mr Hawkins said that a ComRes poll half way through the debate showed Mr Farage clearly in the lead but that the Ukip leader seemed to slip with his comments about HIV treatment.
His claim that “60 per cent” of diagnoses were made for foreign nationals sparked an angry backlash on Twitter and a swift reprimand by Ms Wood, who told him he “should be ashamed”.
Commenting on the success of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Farage, Mr Hawkins cautioned that the television debate format innately favours smaller parties presenting themselves as an alternative to mainstream politics – a position occupied happily by Mr Clegg in 2010.
He added: “Policy and what they would do for the country is secondary to how they come across on television.”
As well as asking who people believed to be the overall winner of the debate, ComRes also questioned voters on how they felt about the leaders.
Mr Farage was voted to appear the “most honest”, Mr Miliband the “most understanding of your concerns” and Mr Cameron both the “most capable of leading the country” and “having the best ideas for Britain’s future”.
Survation found that the Labour leader was perceived to be the best on the NHS, Mr Farage on immigration and the Prime Minister on the country’s future and economy.
TV leaders' debate 2015
TV leaders' debate 2015
1/8 The leaders' debate 2015
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, Labour leader Ed Miliband, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister David Cameron during the 7-way debate
2/8 David Cameron
David Cameron: "People who come here and work hard help make this a great country, but we do need immigration that's controlled and fair."
Getty Images Europe
3/8 Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband says that work 'doesn't pay' in Britain and says Labour would change that. He says David Cameron is talking rubbish.
4/8 Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg says there's "good immigration and bad immigration". "I want Britain to be open for business but not open to abuse".
Getty Images Europe
5/8 Nigel Farage
"Sixty per cent of [people with HIV] are not British nationals... I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is put the NHS there for British families," says Nigel Farage
6/8 Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon says the PM is acting like a "petulant schoolchild threatening to leave".
7/8 Leanne Wood
Leanne Wood has a proposal: "I recognise there are many problems with the EU but Wales benefits from being a member".
8/8 Natalie Bennett
Natalie Bennett: "UN has asked us to take in Syrian refugees, we've taken in 143 Syrians, we should do more and our fair share"
Similarly, YouGov found Mr Cameron ahead on the economy, the Ukip leader on immigration but Mr Miliband on health and education.
Last night’s leaders’ debate was one of several being held in the run-up to 7 May.
A question-and-answer programme featuring Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband separately was hosted by Channel 4 and Sky News last week, and a BBC debate involving opposition party leaders will be broadcast on 16 April.
There will also be a special Question Time a week before the general election, with the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders appearing one after the other to answer questions from a studio audience.
The Independent has got together with May2015.com to produce a poll of polls that produces the most up-to-date data in as close to real time as possible.
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