TV leaders' debate 2015: Why tonight's contest could actually make a difference to the General Election

Guy Bentley
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Will the leaders' debate actually swing any votes? (Source: Getty)

Tonight all the media focus will be on ITV's leaders' debate. However, many have been sceptical about how much this one TV appearance will impact which way people decide to vote.

The UK is a Parliamentary rather than Presidential system so, in theory; the party leaders' role should be somewhat limited, and the importance of your local candidate should take precedence.

But some new polling has found that voters are far more influenced by how they view the party leader than by their local candidate. Research for Total Politics found that 69 per cent of people will vote will be based on their feelings about the party leader. Just under a third of those polled said the performance of their local MP would be the deciding factor when casting their vote.

This means tonight's seven-way contest could prove decisive for how the parties perform on the on polling day. If one of the leaders puts in a particularly poor showing, it could be the main event people associate with their party. On the other side of the coin, if one leader puts in a barnstorming performance it could give their party significant momentum in the tun up to 7 May.

Nigel Farage is expected to perform the best followed by David Cameron. The public think the Green Party's leader Natalie Bennett will perform the worst. This is perhaps unsurprising given two terrible media performances in recent weeks - one with the BBC's Andrew Neil and the other with LBC's Nick Ferrari.

(Source: ComRes)

In 2010, the campaign was transformed after the first debate where Nick Clegg outmatched both Gordon Brown and David Cameron. One week after the debate, the Liberal Democrats surged into first place on 34 per cent. However, the Lib Dem surge was not reflected on election day when the party increased its share of the vote just one per cent and lost five seats.

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