Talbot Mills Research polls seen by Newsroom reveal just under 40 percent of eligible voters watched some or all of the first two leaders’ debates.

TVNZ’s 90-minute debate on September 19 was seen on television by 1.09 million viewers over the age of five according to the state broadcaster, and an additional 71,779 watched on its TVNZ+ online platform.

Talbot Mills polled approximately 1000 eligible voters and 38 percent responded they’d watched some or all of the debate, 28 percent had seen, read, or heard some of the commentary, and 32 percent hadn’t watched and didn’t know much about the debate.

* First leaders’ debate light on insights
Fact check: Did Hipkins and Luxon say anything false?
* More gameshow than gamechanger

Newshub had its own leaders’ debate a week later that 665,000 viewers over the age of five tuned into, and a spokesperson confirmed thousands more also watched on the livestream on ThreeNow.

The same questions were asked by Talbot Mills after that debate and 36 percent of the 1042 eligible voters polled said they’d watched some or all of the debate.

In terms of who had seen, read, or heard some of the commentary, 31 percent responded they had, and 30 percent hadn’t seen any of it and didn’t know much about it.

Talbot Mills broke that debate down further and asked those who had heard or seen the debate who they thought had won.

Thirty-five percent thought Labour leader Chris Hipkins had won, 26 percent said National leader Christopher Luxon secured victory, 19 percent thought it was a draw and 20 percent were unsure.

The same breakdown was not polled for the TVNZ debate, which political commentators widely called a win for Luxon.

Talbot Mills is the Labour Party’s pollster.

In a Spinoff piece last year the extent of television audience decline was revealed, showing the youngest demographic (18-34) is less than one third the scale of its peak in 2010.

Even the 18-54 bracket has seen a steep decline with less than half as many viewers as at the medium’s peak and for the five-plus audience, an audience of more than 700,000 around 2010 has dropped to fewer than 500,000.

Both leaders were scheduled to meet again on Tuesday night at The Press debate in Christchurch but that has been cancelled, and replaced with a minor leaders’ debate, after Hipkins tested positive for Covid on Sunday.

An alternative date couldn’t be agreed by the National and Labour camps so the third and final leaders’ debate is now TVNZ’s next Thursday.

Stuff managing director Joanna Norris told Newsroom 2500 people were expected to attend the live leaders’ debate.

More than 1.2 million people visit the Stuff website daily and Norris said she expected a large number of them to be exposed to the debate or stories associated with it.

The debates are often held up as a influencer ahead of people going to the polling booth, though with advance voting that has reduced the number of voters who wait until the leaders’ debates are complete before making their choice.

Advance voting opened on Monday and as of Tuesday 56,000 voters had cast their ballot – about half as at the same point at the last election.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

Leave a comment