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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little