Nigel Farage won his second television debate with Nick Clegg by an even larger margin than last week. Fully 68% said the UKIP leader ‘performed better overall’, up from 57% after the first debate, while Clegg’s rating slipped from 36% to 27%.
As last week, this YouGov survey for The Sun questioned just over 1,000 people who viewed the debate. We weighted the data to ensure that it was representative of Great Britain as a whole by voting intention and attitudes to the European Union, but did not weight demographically; it therefore reflected the actual audience by age (older than average), gender (more male) and social class (more middle class). It was a fresh sample: we did NOT re-interview people we questioned after last week’s debate.
It is clear that Farage gained ground most among the very people LEAST likely to support his party or his cause:
- The proportion of Labour supporters saying Farage performed better rose from 42% after the first debate to 57% after the second
- Among Liberal Democrats, Farage’s figures are: first debate 20%, second debate 33%
- Among people who told us ahead of the debate that they supported British membership of the EU, his figures are: first debate 30%, second debate 45%
A further measure of the impact of the two debates is before-and-after attitudes to EU membership. Both last week and this week we asked viewers before the debate how they would vote in a referendum, and repeated the question afterwards. Both weeks the starting point was a six-point lead for Britain remaining in the EU (in line with recent YouGov surveys of the general public).
Last week, nine per cent of respondents changed their minds after the debate. There was movement in both directions; the net outcome was a slight drop in pro-EU sentiment. But supporters of British membership still outvoted opponents by three percentage points.
This week, 14% of pre-debate pro-EU voters changed their minds – 8% switching across to ‘out’, the rest saying don’t know. In contrast, just 6% of pre-debate anti-EU voters changed, with half of them afterwards wanting Britain to stay in. The overall effect was to move views from six-point pro-EU lead before the debate to a three-point lead for leaving the EU afterwards.
It is also clear from our before-and-after figures that Clegg lost comprehensively on what he seemed to regard as his strongest argument: that leaving the EU would be bad for British jobs and investment. Before the debate, 42% supported this view, while 29% opposed it. Afterwards, the result was a near-dead heat, with 39% saying Brexit would be bad for jobs and investment and 38% saying good.
That said, two things must be stressed. First, only a small minority of voters watched the debate. (When the viewing figures are published, I should be surprised if more than 10% did so.) Second, immediate responses may not last. Last week, Farage’s victory had little impact on the wider public’s views of the parties or the EU in the days that followed.
We shall see whether Farage’s more emphatic, and widely reported, victory has a greater impact – both in the coming days and in next month’s elections to the European Parliament. But for the moment, he has good reason to claim victory.