School of Media and Communication

Democracy on demand

The 2015 Televised Election Debates: Democracy on Demand?, by Stephen Coleman, Jay G. Blumler, Giles Moss and Matt Homer of the University of Leeds and Dr Nick Anstead of LSE. Commissioned and funded by ITV.

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TV leaders’ debates ‘should become part of the fabric of major political events’

ITV Leaders debate 2015
Pictured: ITV Leaders’ Debate 2015 (L-R:Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, followed by Liberal Demorcrats leader Nick Clegg, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Labour leader Ed Miliband, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Scottish National Party’s Leader Nicola Sturgeon and Conservative leader David Cameron. Picture courtesy of ITV

TV election debates have a significant impact on voters’ decision making and should become part of the fabric of major political events, new research argues.

The first comprehensive analysis of the 2015 debates, carried out by researchers at the University of Leeds and published today, found the leadership debates had reached sections of the population least likely to be touched by the rest of the campaign including younger and first-time voters.

The researchers are now calling on every party leader to make a public commitment to take part in TV debates in 2020 and suggest that televised debates should take place ahead of crucial decisions of constitutional, domestic and foreign policy, such as regional devolution or the looming EU referendum.

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Professor Stephen Coleman, from the University of LeedsSchool of Media and Communication, led the research team. He said:

“It is clear the 2015 TV election debates performed a crucially important civic role, reaching sections of the population least likely to be touched by the rest of the campaign; helping people acquire the information they need to make meaningful choices and thereby boosting the electorate’s confidence.

“At the next general election, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties – and maybe others – will each be led by different leaders from those who participated in the 2015 debates. They should nail their colours to mast and commit to TV debates as soon as possible. Early negotiation about arrangements for 2020 can then begin.

“We found that many voters feel they have a right to see the party leaders debate on television – the default assumption should now be that debates happen. Debates should become part of the fabric of major political events.

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