Tweeters Love Nick Clegg in Real-Time Debate Response

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Tweet verdict on last night’s first ever Prime Ministerial debate: Shag Nick, Marry Gordon, Kill Dave

Social networks gave a running commentary on last night’s first ever televised debate between party leaders in a British General Election campaign, and provided a lot more laughs than the debate itself.

The broadcast proved extremely popular with TV and Internet audiences, with 9.4 million viewers tuning to ITV1 to watch the debate, beating Coronation Street and EastEnders to become the most watched TV programme of the day.

But the heavily stage-managed debate was criticised for being behind the times, lagging the US where TV debates have dominated US elections since the 1960s, and not properly engaging online audiences. Former Conservative MP Tim Collins said this may be the “last campaign where TV is the dominant medium,” before it is eclipsed by the Internet, as a medium for political engagement.

Massive engagement on social networks

Online figures were at least an order of magnitue smaller, but still made it one of the biggest online events ever. Twitter recorded a total of 184,396 tweets during the course of the broadcast, with an average frequency of 29.06 tweets per second. The total number of tweeters using the #LeadersDebate hashtag was recorded as 36,483, according to Tweetminster. The topic was still trending on Twitter at the time of writing.

Tweetminster has also produced a list of the most mentioned topics in last night’s tweets. These were, in order: Immigration, Reform, Education, Trident, China, Afghanistan, Money, Troops, Manifesto, NHS, Crime, Police, Taxes, War, Soldiers and Participation. Earlier today, Google also published some of its findings on the most searched-for terms during the debate. In particular, mention of the terms “quango”, “Trident missile” and “jobs tax” created surges of traffic.

According to Facebook, more than 43,000 fans were following the Democracy UK fanpage, but its “Rate the Debate” application crashed due to the number of people trying to access it. “With over 43,000 fans currently following Democracy UK, tonight’s Rate the Debate application experienced a groundswell of users,” Facebook said in a statement. “This volume of participation is a testament to the popularity and appetite for the application and we’ll ensure it is ready for the impact of next week’s debate.”

Twitter reactions

The general consensus among tweeters was that the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg came across best of the three, and was the overall winner. However, he was derided for using the term “billions and squillions” when discussing the budget, and for his repeated mention of his home town Sheffield. One witty tweeter suggested “Clegg has clearly got friends in Sheffield playing a drinking game, a shot every time he mentions the homestead!”

Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was mocked for repeatedly agreeing with Nick Clegg – with “I agree with Nick” becoming the catchphrase of the night. One tweet which went viral suggested “I think this would be a good time for Gordon to take his eye out. Just because he can and Cameron can’t.”

Many tweeters also drew attention to the Conservative leader David Cameron’s apparent unease, and criticised his over-use of anecdotes. A large number of re-tweets this morning stated, “What we learnt last night: Clegg is damn fine speaker, Cameron met a black man once & Brown agrees with Nick”. Others stated, “OK. Shag Nick, marry Gordon, kill Dave.”

Even the debate’s presenter, Alistair Stewart, did not escape the scrutiny of tweeters, with many saying he should “stick to Police, Camera, Action”. However, others concluded: “The real winner is Alistair Stewart. A man who cannot talk his way out of a drunk car. An amazing career rehabilitation.”

Immediately following the debate, YouGov‘s debate reactions poll put Clegg on 51 percent, Cameron on 29 percent and Brown trailing with 19 percent. However, Sky News and FizzBack, who surveyed a panel of more than 10,000 people by text message, showed that Clegg won with 37 percent of the vote, with Brown and Cameron almost neck-and-neck at 32 percent and 31 percent respectively.

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