TV debates get the green light from voters

Leaders’ debates get the green light from voters

In our latest polling with the Observer, we asked likely voters their opinions about the debates, which has emerged as a high profile issue after David Cameron’s refusal to take part with the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

In our survey of 1,700 likely voters, we found that support for the attendance of the Green Party leader in any possible debates this year has noticeably increased.

In April 2014, when we asked this question in the aftermath of Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage’s debate on the EU, only 28% of likely voters thought the Green party leader should take part with Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and UKIP forming a clearly separate block where a majority thought each of their leaders should take part.
This month things have become more complicated with the figure for the Greens increasing to 46%.

TV debates

However, although the difference between parties is slimmer, the order remains the same, with three quarters picking Labour (75%) and the Conservatives (74%), with the Liberal Democrats (66%) and UKIP (61%) slightly lower.

Even Conservatives are prepared to ’empty chair’ Cameron

We looked at a variety of scenarios around David Cameron’s refusal to take part and found the public broadly in support of another set of debates in 2015.

Just under half (48%) of likely voters think that the TV debates should ‘definitely’ go ahead. However, they were less sure about whether they will go ahead. Only 24% thought they would ‘definitely’ go ahead this year, with 54% saying they ‘probably’ would.

If the broadcasters still refuse to invite Natalie Bennett, 52% of likely voters (and 52% of Conservatives) thought David Cameron should take part in the TV debates anyway.

Broadly speaking, UKIP voters were most supportive of the debates – a logical answer considering Nigel Farage’s invitation – and Green voters are now the most reticent about them going ahead in their current form.

If David Cameron continues to refuse to take part, more than half of voters (57%) think the debates should go ahead anyway with the possibility of the prime minister being ’empty-chaired’. A similar proportion (51%) think Mr Cameron is looking for excuses not to take part in the debates.

Only 25% think that the debates should be called off if David Cameron refuses to take part.

Leaders debates

Half (50%) of Green voters supported calling off the debates in the present climate, but more interestingly 48% of Conservative voters seemed to support the ’empty-chairing’ of their own leader.

Future expectations

If debates do go ahead (and David Cameron takes part), voters expect the prime minister and UKIP’s Nigel Farage to come off best while Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are expected to do badly.

Performance expectations for the TV debates

These results also highlight the extent to which Conservative and UKIP voters are much more supportive of their respective leaders than Labour voters. 78% of Conservatives expect David Cameron to do well and 87% of UKIP supporters said the same of Nigel Farage. In contrast, just 52% of Labour voters expect Ed Miliband to do well.

Natalie Bennett as a less well known quantity was given an understandably less emphatic response with 31% saying “neither well nor badly” and 19% saying they didn’t know. 74% of Green voters expect a strong performance from their leader should she be invited to take part in the debates.

Opinium Research carried out an online survey of 1,966 GB adults aged 18+ from 13th to 16th January 2015. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.