In amongst all the political programming there have only been 2 national televised debates. The first of these was the ITV Leaders’ Debate, where both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn decided not to take part. As a result, the viewing figures were poor only attracting 1,765,000 viewers.
The second of these debates, the BBC Election Debate, saw much more interest with the last minute entrance of Mr Corbyn which pushed viewing figures up to 3,508,000. Mrs May declined the invitation again. Despite Mrs May’s absence this debate had one of the highest figures of all the election programming including all the Andrew Neil interviews and the second Question Time special.
It was also higher than the Sky News and Channel 4 May vs Corbyn election special (C4 2,712,000 and Sky News 415,000) which saw both leaders take part in a question and answer session but not debate each other. In terms of viewers, Mrs May missed out and given the backlash that she received for not taking part, the effects of the decision have been more far reaching than missing out on TV viewers. Interestingly though, YouGov recently predicted that although there was a general story around Mrs May not turning up that it would not have a lasting effect on the polls.
However with even higher viewing figures was the BBC’s The One Show which featured Theresa May and her husband talking about who takes the bins out. As excruciating as it was to watch, it pulled in 3,769,000 viewers (+5% on average The One Show viewing figures).
The One Show demonstrates that there is an appetite for learning about our politicians as people but the viewing figures also show that debates are important. In Scotland we will see live debates with all of the Party Leaders on BBC and STV. People want to see their politicians react and argue their case rather than just delivering well-rehearsed answers. Whether the PR machines around the politicians will allow this though is another matter.
Source: BARB (Average live individual impacts)