So, did anyone win the first debate?

First of all, let's face it, this is a very slow start to this election. We are almost a full week into it and the only poll we got was a snap poll from Forum, done Sunday between 10am and 4pm. Not exactly a lot of data to work with.

I'm currently setting up a poll tracking page, with all the recent polls, projections, etc. As it stands, my projections of the beginning of the week for the Huffington Post would still be valid. What's the point of a poll tracker if there is only one poll to track? So more frequent updates will come. Also, yes, I'm writing for the Huffington Post about twice weekly. I'll post the links for their articles on the blog, but not copy the texts themselves. Yesterday, I looked at how the NDP could win without actually winning Ontario.

But for now, the only actual event of this early campaign has been yesterday Maclean's debate. And as usual, the question is: was there a winner?

Before I actually try to answer this questions, I'd like to point out that quite often the pundits and analysts conclude there was no clear winner. Or that there wasn't any knockout punch. In recent memories, the only modern debates I can thin of where everybody agreed right away who lost and who won is the first presidential debate in the 2011 US election. In this case, Romney clearly outperformed a tired Obama. But otherwise, it's never fully clear cut. With that said, I often disagree that one debate won't have an impact. I think we've had plenty of times where a debate had a more subtle, slower impact on the voting intentions. Not a dramatic boost (again, like Romney in 2011), but slow adjustments. All that to say that I find pundits and experts too often downplay the impact of a debate. Of course, one could wonder if a debate taking place 10 weeks prior to the election can even have an impact.

So, was there a winner? Let's do a quick review of the press.

Mulcair turning a restrained, and some might say uncomfortably smiley performance from the Allisson Jones of the Canadian Press (for the National Post).

Justin Trudeau walks out with the win according to Michael Den Tandt from the NP.

Gilbert Lavoie from Le Soleil declares Mulcair as winner, with Trudeau surprising.

Oh, Google and Twitter seem to indicate people were searching a lot for Justin Trudeau. Not sure if that means he won or not. After all, they mention many looked for "Who does Trudeau consider to be middle class?"

May and Mulcair outshine Harper according to The Guardian.

And the Canadian politics sub Reddit doesn't seem to agree on anything, but their straw poll has Mulcair winning ahead of May. Please remember that a sub reddit is not a representative sample. But hey, the opinion of one analyst isn't either.

So, all in all, clearly no consensus. And unfortunately, not true poll either. Darrel Bricker from Ipsos told me on Twitter he thought asking 500 people could be a good idea, but a viewership expected to be low would make it difficult. Although it seems the debate didn't do that bad (without doing well either, especially compared to other federal debates that can attract 3x more viewers. But hey, it's the middle of the summer).

So, who won the debate? It seems nobody really agrees. Although written newspapers seem to think Trudeau did quite well. But it's not a landslide win.


Actually, here is a Forum poll about the debate. The results? Justin Trudeau as the winner for 23%. But "nobody" is actually ahead with 25% of the votes. This poll is only for the GTA. And as usual for  the opinion on the winner of a debate, we need to remember that partisans tend to think their leader won. In other words, if you are a Liberal, you are much more likely to rate the performance of Trudeau as the best. In order to correct for this, I always do my debate index where I divide the % of people who declare one individual as the winner by the % of people who declare wanting to vote for this party. A score above 1 means you convinced people even outside of your party, a score below 1 indicate that some of your own partisans didn't think you were the best. If we do this, we get the following index (excluding the "others" and "don't know":


It's not surprising for a leader of a small party to do well with this index. Plus, May did objectively relatively well yesterday. As for the others, honestly, it's really pretty much a wash and it seems everyone mostly convinced his own partisans. The Forum poll actually breaks down the question by political preferences and we indeed see that it was the case. Remember, the debate index isn't there so much to declare a winner but to see if a debate could have a potential impact on the voting intentions. This first debate certainly doesn't look like it will. But hey, we never know.

Edit 2:

A second poll, conducted by Mainstreet research in BC finds that Trudeau won with 26% of respondent choosing the Liberal leader as the winner. Mulcair is the choice of 23% while May receives 22%. Stephen Harper is right behind at 20%. So again, it's pretty much a draw here as well. However, if we do the same index, given the voting intentions in this poll (37% NDP, 26% LPC. 23% CPC and 5% Green, with 8% undecided), we find there again that Green party leader Elizabeth May clearly convinced the most people out of her own party. I think with the Forum and Mainstreet polls, we can safely conclude that May probably "won". Still in BC, Mulcair is definitely the one with the lowest index score. That was also the case with Forum. We aren't talking of a horrible performance, but definitely a disappointment.

In conclusion, no knockout punch but May seems to have done really well, so did Trudeau. Mulcair didn't bomb but was probably the biggest disappointment while Harper did what was expected.

So let's compare that to this site's poll here below