Leading article: Quick opinion polls do not reflect the real debate in this crucial election

Share
Related Topics

The gap between perception and reality bedevils modern politics. That is particularly true during a general election in the information-rich world of instant news where the speed of communication is matched only by the shallowness of what is communicated. The outcome of the final election leadership debate this week was a case in point.

The televised leadership debates are a useful addition to British politics. They allow voters to form judgements about the main party leaders which are unfiltered by the lenses of our national newspapers, most of which present the news from a distinctive political slant. But such debates have their limitations. The restrictions placed upon the format have allowed the three leaders to get away with broad-brush statements which seasoned presenters like David Dimbleby must have been itching to subject to a far more detailed scrutiny.

The limitations of the format were underscored by snap opinion polls commissioned by the media in an attempt to force the outcome of the debates into a more newsworthy format. After the final debate the Tory press was enabled to pronounce that David Cameron had "won" by various margins or, at the very least, had drawn with Nick Clegg. But in all Gordon Brown was deemed to have "lost".

Those polls may presage the final outcome. But they reveal the hardening attitudes of the electorate rather than offering an objective verdict on the outcome of the debate itself. Such polls seem to mirror the attitudes viewers had before the debate actually began. With the Mrs Duffy affair the tide is seen to have turned from Brown, and the natural predisposition of individuals to want to back a winner has come into play.

The truth is that the Prime Minister acquitted himself rather well in the final debate. Messrs Cameron and Clegg may have scored on style and sympathy but Mr Brown was solid on substance. The Conservative leader repeatedly failed to answer, or indeed even to address, Mr Brown's criticism that it was unfair and immoral to benefit Britain's richest families by raising the threshold for inheritance tax while at the same time cutting child tax credits. Nor did Mr Cameron offer a convincing justification for his insistence that public spending is not playing a key role in stimulating the demand on which the tentative recovery of the economy depends. Cuts to public spending would jeopardise that – a judgement which the makers of economic policy in the US and throughout Europe all share. Mr Cameron merely dismissed Mr Brown's grave warnings as "desperate stuff from someone in a desperate state". But the truth is that the Conservative strategy here is highly risky.

Voters may not agree, much as they do not generally seem concerned at the gaping holes which the Institute for Financial Studies pointed out this week in the spending plans of all three main parties. They may be more influenced by melodramas like the Mrs Duffy gaffe, which one poll has suggested could knock 7 per cent off the Labour vote. But they should probe more deeply than the televised leadership knockabouts have permitted. Gaps between perception and reality are dangerous at any time, but no more so than in the final week of a general election campaign.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn