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How TV debates influenced Election 2020

4 min read.

Finian Murphy, Marketing Director

by Finian Murphy, Marketing Director


After the first week when all political parties set out their stalls, this election week was dominated by two nights of seven-way leader debates. This was an opportunity to hear the differences between parties approaches to housing, health, climate, childcare, crime and a united Ireland.

The first leaders debate took place on RTÉ One on Monday night, moderated by Claire Byrne. Within an hour, over half a million were watching the debate, when housing was discussed. The second half of the debate had less viewers, but close to 400,000 potential voters (18+ adults) stayed with it until the end.

The second leaders debate was broadcast on Virgin Media One on Thursday night. The moderators, Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper were critiqued for their sharp interrogation and interruption of each of the seven leaders. A twitter storm took off within the first thirty minutes, and viewership grew across the evening, peaking at 332,000 (15+ adults) towards the end of debate, when potential coalitions and climate action were being discussed.

Impact of TV Debates

Core Research will publish a Cultural Index GE2020 special next week, looking at the stories which resonated the most with people during the election. This report will also look at the ways people found out about the campaign. Ahead of that, we can see the influence of the TV debates by analysing Google Search data. This data shows the extent to which people are searching on a topic, and it has revealed the impact of the TV appearances.

During and after Monday night’s debate, searches for Sinn Féin were nearly twice as much as the other two main parties, and this difference in searches was sustained until Thursday, when searches increased again during the Virgin Media One debate, with lower increase levels for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Based on recent polling, there is clearly a growing interest in Sinn Féin, and viewers were trying to find out more about the party, across the past week. With one-third of voters still undecided, this has been a crucial moment in the campaign.


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