The verdict

Verdicts on the debate in today’s papers divide neatly along organisational lines, with News Limited observers saying it was close and Fairfax giving a clear win to Rudd. The commentator who comes closest to calling it for Howard is Sid Marris: speaking with colleague Dennis Shanahan on a video at The Australian’s website, he judges that “John Howard was stronger, but Kevin Rudd didn’t suffer a loss”. Shanahan decries the “Rudd-centric” worm, and says only that the Opposition Leader “won because he didn’t lose”. Also on the video are Paul Kelly, who says Howard was “very much on top at the start but I think Rudd finished better”, and Sky News man-of-the-hour David Speers who gives the debate to Rudd “on points”. In the newspaper itself, Matthew Franklin gives Kevin Rudd a “narrow victory” in the face of a “well above par” performance by the Prime Minister. Doug Conway of the Courier-Mail calls it a draw, offering the wearily familiar assessment that “neither Mr Howard nor Mr Rudd made a disastrous blunder, nor did they land a lethal body blow on their opponent”. Only Mark Kenny of The Advertiser breaks ranks, saying Rudd “unquestionably had the better of it”, while echoing the customary caution that “the longer term political significance is unlikely to be great”.

By contrast, the headline in The Age tells us of “Rudd’s decisive win”. Michelle Grattan declares Rudd “the clear winner”, “sounding confident and convincing against an opponent whose energy flagged and temper flared”, while Tony Wright rates it “Rudd’s night on most fronts”. Similarly, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher reckons Rudd the “clear winner”, and says he has “cemented his claim as frontrunner”. The assessment of the Canberra Times is that Rudd won “because he didn’t debate. He had a plan to sell and he came, he saw and he sold”. In the other non-News Limited paper available to hand, The West Australian, a report by Chris Johnson and Shane Wright talks of Rudd “clearly getting the better of the Prime Minister”. Political editor Andrew Probyn also gives it to Rudd, saying the Prime Minister was “on the back foot … over WorkChoices, climate change, leadership and interest rates”.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

834 comments on “The verdict”

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  1. Being as objective as I can be (and I think I manage that pretty well)

    I was very impressed by Rudd’s performance for the night. Personally, I thought, contrary to a lot of people, that Howard began a lot more convincingly and lost it the further it went. The fact that the worm reacted positively to statements on terrorism and reconciliation (ie not saying sorry) is hardly surprising but nothing we haven’t heard before.

    I think people that state Rudd just repeats slogans forget that Howard himself does this. Large sections of his debate last night were what I’ve heard him say, word for word, on a number of occasions (eg. his analogy regarding sorry and a mate’s friend dying).

    Of course, I state all this with the proviso that I don’t think debate’s influence much unless there is a major stuff-up on one side or the other. To me, the closest it came to a stuff-up was Howard stating the Iraq war was important to protect the ‘prestige’ of the West… the papers could have a field day with that one.

    It was closer than 65-55, but definately a win for Rudd.

  2. Rudd won. Simple. Only the most biased observers would have have Howard close. If that is the best Howard can do, it’s all over. Now all we need to see is a high inflation result this week, an interest rate rise after that and the stunning odds still on offer on Labor will be the best 5 week investment ever. 60% tax free over 5 weeks. Ship it in!

  3. Rudd was the clear winner. The decrepit Howard fumbled his logic, tortured the English language, and uttered plenty of simple gaffes, which caused me to second guess his course of thought. Rudd was clear and succinct, Rudd rebutted each and every false allegation made by Howard.

  4. FWIW, I thought that Howard was irritable and whiny, but then again – quite seriously – I’ve always thought him an ill-tempered little sh*t, and that hasn’t stopped him from winning elections, so perhaps such a judgment means very little.

  5. Hate to point this out, but the online poll has a massive lead to Howard, as to who won the debate.

    As for me, I think Rudd won hands down.

  6. It’s almost certain that the online poll was spammed. If you look at the comments on the blog there it’s like 8-2 in support of Rudd, yet the poll is way off the mark.

  7. I also agree that Rudd won, but the only thing that might actually sway any voters was Howards surly disposition towards the end.

    I just wanted to highlight another interesting observation: having just checked on-line poll results at various Murdoch newspapers, I was staggered to see that Howard was listed as the winner in all, with relatively large samples of over 18,000 at the CM, 3674 at the Herald Sun and 879 clicking their mouse at the Advertiser site. By contrast, the SMH and Age website polls are around 70/30 in favour of Rudd (as expected), but with a smaller number of respondants. All this before 6am! I must ask the obvious question – have coalition staffers been staying up all night clicking for Johnny? If not, why the discrepancy between sites, and why in Brisbane?

    I can’t really believe 18000 punters got out of bed before 6am in Brisbane and all happened to think that Howard was the clear winner. And why are people so much less interested in politics everywhere except Brisbane? I have already checked and sure enough it is possible to log multiple votes on these things by voting, closing the window back to the News site, and then opening it again. I suspect that somewhere there are a number of Liberal staffers with very tired fingers who have stayed up for hours clicking awwy for the Rodent. I guess if a cause is worth fighting for it is worth lying for…

  8. Its relatively simple to use a script to vote many many times – its a bit harder to not make it (as) detectable.

    I don’t think the newspapers put much effort into stopping poll fraud

  9. I think the biggest loser on the night was Capt. Smirk. The camera, I thought, was very unkind in a couple of early shots (Did the cameraman get a smack?) and Rudd managed to get a couple of blows in that I thought landed quite heavily.

    I thought Rudd was very nervous at the start but soon settled down and won the night clearly. We started watching on ABC out of principle but switched to the worm channel about ¾ through – it was quite noticable that negatives really did equal minuses.

    Overall assessment: The Turd has been wormed.

  10. Rudd clearly won, but what struck me was Howard seemed to suffer an attack of the twitches about three quarters in. Looked like he was about to keel over.

  11. I don’t know how anybody with an independent mind can pick a clear winner out of last night.

    My sense was that it was a draw, although I could eventually agree with LTEP about a marginal win for Rudd.

    The main significance is that the result is nowhere near the 60/40 TPP numbers we were seeing just 4 weeks ago.

    In an event that has historically favoured the challenger, Howard must be reasonably happy with his performance.

    Anyway, does anyone know when the next Newspoll is out?

  12. 13
    Grumblebum Says:
    October 22nd, 2007 at 6:40 am
    I think the biggest loser on the night was Capt. Smirk.

    Could well be. I spent so much time enjoying the worm that I really didn’t see the looks on people’s faces ;-). It really makes me wonder though about the voters in Higgins. How, how, how can this joker continually get re-elected? I mean, the same smirk/attitude/etc. is available for all to see. Why are Higgins voters so blind?

  13. Just confirmed, the National Press Club unilaterally pulled the channel 9 feed. The Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane however specifically asked them not to.

  14. I’m an Ex-Higginsian. I don’t remember the ALP ever putting up a serous candidate in Higgins before.

    Higgins also includes some o fthe wealthiest areas in Melbourne…. From memory, not Toorak, but all the suburbs around it.

    Anyone know what’s going on this time?

  15. Dont’ forget to call in your support to Channel 9 for Kevin. They are collecting votes until mid day I believe but I am not sure, it might go longer. Results on the “phone in” poll will be shown on ACA tonight. I have numbers now for that.

    Landline phone – 1902.555.402
    Mobile – Text “Rudd” to 199.55.400

  16. Yet again the liberal hacks in the papers fail to see the nose on the end of their face. Anybody who thought is was even close must have been asleep.
    Howard is almost 70. He needs to have a nice lie down. If Rudd can get another debate closer to the poll, it will surely be the nail in the coffin

  17. Rudd won by a country mile. He answered all of the deliberately sown doubts about whether he is just a slogan repeater, about whether he actually believes in anything, about whether he has a glass jaw. He came across as a competent, intelligent and dedicated person who can hold his own in any company. Any attempts to reinforce those doubts from now on will fall on deaf ears, so the coalition is robbed of one of their US sourced strategies – creating doubt about “character”.
    In contrast, Howard came across as a bully (and an unsuccessful one) especially in the incident about the OECD report. The mantra about union officials is now also starting to look like bullying – imagine demonising all accountants or butchers or hairdressers just because they belong to that particular group – it comes across as stupid, simplistic and brutal – and I think Rudd deftly pointed this out, almost subliminally.
    Another point is that people actually want to see governments doing things to solve problems and Howard has actually used this pretty effectively in the past. But now (revealed starkly by Work Choices) the Liberals are revealed as the “create the conditions and let the market do all the lifting” party and this is the reason why they have no “plan” – because they really have no plan, despite the fact that the market will not take care of all that has to be done by government.

  18. My best Marlon Brando/Apocalypse Now parody:

    “The Worm! THE WORM!!”

    Ahem. As my apolitical wife said, you didn’t need a worm to work out who got flogged in that debate..

  19. To me the most interesting things was how often the worm was “flat-lining” during Mr Howard’s speeches….

    People are bored with him. The worm spiked any time either party announced a good new innitiative. At the moment, the ALP has more new initiatives to talk about – the Liberals are merely union-bashing and tax-cutting. Nothing new there.

  20. What a crime that the Labor and Liberal parties selected the audience at our Great Hall and that the other parties were frozen out. 30% of the voters and their representatives ignored, frozen out and marginalised … and on the ABC too. A pathetic day for democracy and more evidence of the cartel in operation, a cartel that can’t brook any real dissent (witness the cut of channel nine feed).

    Fair enough the lock-out of the Greens, Democrats, FF and other real alternatives, but why do the Nationals put up with this crap? I just can’t believe the ABC went along with it.

  21. I’m relatively independent, and I believe Rudd caned Howard last night. What impressed me was that Rudd came across as quite a good speaker and pressed his points strongly. He was far from the wooden stage managed figure we see on the campaign trail.

    I think the only thing to come out of the night is the reinforcement of the view that Rudd is PM material. Now if we can get him to stop asking himself so many questions!

    By contrast, the PM looked flaky and didn’t seem to focus on the points he needed to. He would be halfway through a point and then remember something else and quickly switch. No wonder he only wanted one and early.

  22. Grumblebum @ 18

    Thanks. So it’s not just me. Suspect there is something wrong – he’s said some strange things lately, as though he’s not completely in control. Could be just stress, which is understandable.

  23. Rudd won (on points, not a knockout). Howard was too negative.
    The worm was a bit of a joke. Half the time it bounced up before KR even finished his first sentence, which tells you that even though it’s measuring something, that something is not how well they’re debating.
    The debate will be only marginally relevant to the election result, except in that (for now, anyway) it means that the Coalition “comeback” (if that’s what it was) has been stalled.
    The “worm result” (65-29 to Rudd) was uncannily similar to the past two elections – a fact which only emphasises the irrelevance of the worm.

  24. I was pleasantly surprised with 9’s coverage last night. They have turned a corner in their news coverage at some point in the last 12 months. I used to not watch them at all because they were just a mouthpiece for the government. Now 7 have taken over that role.

    Wonder how much Eddie leaving had to do with their switch in focus to be more fair and even handed now? 😉

  25. I’m glad Rudd put Howard in place about the OCED statistics about education. Thing is Howard rubbishes all the OCED data except the ones that put us at the top. Thing is, you can’t accept one without the other. And as Rudd pointed out, we had government officials there who could pointed things out while the report was being put together.

    Labor should layout all the OCED data and highlight the ones were we’ve gone backwards.

  26. In the last 30 mins this morning while watching Sunrise, I’ve seen 2 Your Rights At Work ads, one of which was one of their Real People, Real Stories ad. I can feel the unions will be stepping up their campaign.

  27. It’s no surprise the News Ltd hacks all think Howard won – obviously taking their instructions from Uncle Rupert.
    Radio talkback this morning has focused on 2 things: Howard’s dreadful performance, and his apparent spasm or lockjaw last night – the Rodent was having a lot of trouble keeping his tongue in his mouth.

  28. The worm uses a group of undecided voters that decide by selecting whether they like what the speaker says. The overwhelming result was a landslide for Kevin. Should the ALP apply the results of the worm to the campaign, then game set and match. Although they would already know most of that anyway.

    Poland has just thrown out their fundamentalist right wing religious party and replaced it with a center right party.

    In spite of the headline Switzerland seems have the much the same 4 seats went right wing and 4 seats went green.

  29. You can see why Howard didn’t want 3 debates. He had little new to say and seemed rattled by Rudd at times. The worm was a bore. It was uncritical of Kevin and flatten lined on Johnny. The PM seemed to do reasonably well on global warming and reconciliation but it felt like the audience has stopped listening. For my view see a video resposnce at “Labor View from Broome’

  30. Being from across the Tasman, I watched the debate on Sky – so I didn’t get to see the worm in action. However to me Rudd definitely won. It wasn’t a knock-out for him, but nevertheless a reasonably comfortable win.

    More importantly, in less then 24 hours Rudd’s win in the debate has already made an impact in the Centrebet election market: ALP (down from 1.71 yesterday o 1.58 at the moment), Coalition (out from 2.15 yesterday to 2.40 now).

    Even more interesting, both Sportsbet and SportsAcumen election betting markets are closed at the moment. A major adjusting of odds?

    Of course this recovery by the ALP won’t be seen in the polls until later this week. So I expect tomorrow’s Newspoll (mostly taken before the debate) to show a narrowing in the 2PP to around 53-47, in line with the Galaxy and ACN polls last week.

  31. Dyno (31), my understanding is that the Worm goes to where the speaker previously finished and continues from there. Hence, if Rudd finished his previous question on a high, then the worm will bounce up to that point next time he speaks.

  32. Purely anecdotally, I work in an office filled with Sydney north shore Liberal voters and, this morning, they are all unequivocal in calling Rudd the winner. The general tenor of their remarks was that Howard looked old and bad tempered. They like Rudd’s emphasis on education and they’re over Howard’s claims to be ‘managing’ an economy that would be off to the races with my grandmother in charge.

    That the News Ltd hacks somehow construed a near win for Howard from what was a straight out shell-lacking speaks volumes for how compromised they have become.

  33. Down and Out @ 43,

    Yes – NZ has used the worm for the last decade or so. In fact the first time the Worm was used in NZ was during the 1996 Election campaign where (then Opposition Leader) Helen Clark had unexpected success with the Worm. This success proved to be the springboard which took Labour from just 14% support (and 26% behind National) at the start of the 1996 election campaign to 28.2% (and 5.6% behind National) on election night. Clark then went on to win the 1999 election campaign (where the Worm didn’t feature at all in the campaign). However the Worm returned for the 2002 and 2005 campaigns. In the 2002 campaign, minor party leader Peter Dunne (of the United Future party) surprised everyone with his mastery of the Worm. This resulted in his party’s representation in the 120 seat Parliament increasing from 1 seat (his own) to 8 seats.

  34. Re: my posting @ 47

    Actually Helen Clark not only won the (Wormless) 1999 election campaign – Labour of course (with help from the Alliance and Greens) won the 1999 election.

  35. Rudd won the debate easily.

    I’m no cheer-leader for Rudd, and I’ve strongly criticised his first week of campaigning, but last night he was all over Howard.

    For me, it wasn’t even close. I would have given it 80-20 to Rudd.

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