Who won the last Leaders’ Debate? The squeaky floor, of course

24 Feb 2016

General Election posters image via Luke Maxwell

In the bunch of debates held in advance of the General Election in Ireland, we’ve seen a variation of winners. Never before, though, has the very foundations of a debate shone through so much.

In the first debate, Fianna Fáil’s Micháel Martin was credited with a strong showing. When the room was expanded out to involve the lesser parties, Stephen Donnelly, of the Social Democrats, dominated the field.

At Facebook HQ on Sunday night, it was perhaps too relaxed to gauge winners and losers but last night, during RTÉ’s final Leaders’ Debate, Martin, along with Labour’s Joan Burton, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny were constantly one-upped by the squeaky studio floor.

Leaders’ Debate: Google says so

That’s according to online trends during the debate, at least. Google has released its ‘most searched’ terms from last night and there’s wonderful symmetry between the top two.

First up, ‘Who is winning the RTÉ debate?’. An in-game question of obvious importance. Soon, though, it seems, viewers wanted something more meaty. So the second most-asked question on Google was ‘What is the creaking noise on the RTÉ debate?’

Beyond that, Google found Adams and Burton to be the most searched throughout the debate, with the former’s discussion about a medical procedure in the US dominating conversation. Questions like ‘what operation?’ or ‘what treatment?’ did he receive cropped up a lot, as did ‘Is Gerry Adams sick?’.

leaders' debate general election | Who won the Leaders' Debate?

Leaders’ Debate: Winners or losers?

To clarify, online audience and exposure of candidates is not necessarily a positive – a good gaffe can work wonders on ending a candidate’s hopes – but as they’re primarily looking for just that, exposure, the more they’re discussed online can, to a degree, be considered a success.

Over to Twitter and ADAPT, the research centre that looked at sentiment surrounding the tweets sent during RTÉ’s show. What did they find? Well, first up, far less people engaged with this debate in comparison to previous showings.

Second up, that creaky floor was again a show stealer. Sadly, it caught ADAPT off guard somewhat, so its sentiment analysis doesn’t stretch into how positive or negative people felt about the job done on flooring in Donnybrook.

Leaders’ Debate: Positivity, people

Again, Adams was the most talked about leader, but Burton was spoken of most positively. Of all tweets discussing the Labour leader, 43pc were positive, only 29pc were negative.

Compare this to Adams (37pc v 36pc), Kenny (41pc v 40pc) and Martin (41pc v 34pc) and you see a clear winner, with the latter’s figures coming from the least amount of tweets.

The top topics on Twitter (official heat-map from during the debate above) were finance, health and housing. Healthcare discussion was largely positive (47pc v 35pc), with housing at the other end of the spectrum, (55pc negative and just 24pc positive).

Weirdly, in ADAPT’s findings, Stephen Donnelly, while not featuring on the show, lists fifth on the most talked about leaders. While in Twitter’s own findings, the Green Party was more prominent than expected.

Who won the leaders' debate? Twitter findings

Leaders’ Debate: Over to Facebook

According to Facebook’s figures from the debate, the economy and health were also the dominant topics of conversation but, curiously, that order was flipped around for just male users.

Outside of Dublin, the top five discussed topics in order were the economy, followed by health, crime, housing and social welfare. In Dublin, however, it was noticeable that health and housing were ranked higher.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Facebook is including an ‘I’m a voter’ button for Irish users on Friday to encourage people to vote.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic