Key narrowly wins first debate

Posted August 28, 2014

Both men had their good moments in the first leaders debate tonight, but I give the victory to Prime Minister John Key by a thin margin.

Key clearly had two messages he planned to get across. The first was to portray National as strong economic managers. He used figures effectively to back up this claim. The other message was the need for people to take the Green Party economic policy into account when considering what Labour had to offer.

One of Key’s big strengths in debates and other media appearances is his natural demeanour. While he did OK in this area, he wasn’t his usual self. He consistently had one hand in his pocket. This can look a bit sloppy, but can also lessen energy in the voice. That was a big reason he didn’t seem as passionate as he usually does.

But he still looked reasonably natural, if not up to his usual standard. He also got his message through repeatedly. This is vital because it’s the only way to get viewers to remember anything you say.

Cunliffe had some good moments. I felt he spent too much time early in the debate on dirty politics. He needed to focus on what Labour would do for people, and more importantly, how they would do it. People are less interested in dirty politics, and it appears those unhappy with National as a result are moving to minor parties, not Labour. His messages for the debate were not as clear as Key’s.

But he had some good answers and great sound bites. For example when talking about the economic recovery he said: “Most New Zealanders have missed the party and gone straight to the hangover.” That’s great communication and is bound to be used in media stories tomorrow.

There were two other negatives for Cunliffe. Firstly, he tried to talk over Key too much. This is frowned on by viewers. I also felt he was again not as natural as Key, and that’s vital. His tone of voice has improved markedly, but I felt at times he was overdoing his gestures as if he was almost acting.

But overall, while I think Key won, Cunliffe may have walked out the most satisfied.

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