To the joy of some and the chagrin of others, the stars of last week’s historic health debate between Rudd and Abbott were definitely the competing worms. As good fortune would have it, Roy Morgan – the owner of the Morgan Reactor technology that powered Channel Seven’s PolliGraph – has shared respondent level data with Pollytics and Crikey to let us bring you the most arcane secrets of what was the most widely witnessed political focus group of the last few years. So a big thanks goes out to them for letting us see the results of what is some of the most spiffy focus group and audience response technology on the planet.

Over the coming days, we’ll bring you all sorts of demographic breakdown goodness of the debate, focusing on what messages pressed the buttons of which cohorts, how different angles pursued by Abbott and Rudd played out with different cross-tabs, and we’ll also take a look at a few results that may surprise you.

Today, however, we’ll take a bit of an overview of the technology and a quick squiz at some basic demographic patterns.

As a direct result of the very short period of time that was available to organise an audience panel to participate in the PolliGraph, the partisan balance of the audience had a slight tilt towards Labor, giving the responses we witnessed on Channel Seven during the debate a small but significant lean towards the ALP. If the debates were announced a few days earlier, there would have been enough of a lead time to get a properly balanced panel – often, time is the killer with such things.

In numerical terms, Labor vs. Coalition voters split a tad over 60/40 towards the ALP. So while the broad, average level of the audience response might lean toward Labor slightly, the changes in that response over time are still politically neutral. We can also remove that partisan lean entirely – which you’ll see in action later – by looking at Labor and Coalition voters as separate, individual cohorts.

Even though it was fairly obvious that Rudd won the debate, as a result of this slight lean, the PolliGraph data suggests that the PM didn’t clean the Opposition leader’s clock to the extent that the various worms initially conveyed. Rudd still won conclusively, but it wasn’t a complete train wreck for Tony Abbott.

To give an idea of the sorts of things we’ll be doing and the cohorts involved, if we have a quick squiz at the audience responses of the opening statements of the two leaders, and run the PolliGraph by both voting intention and gender, we can see how the basic patterns and leans play out for each leader in each demographic. These are just still images – in later posts we’ll run video as well.

First up is Rudd, by gender and voting intention. Each image represents a two minute block of the opening statement – so this is what the first four minutes looks like: (just click to expand)



It took the audience a little while to react to Rudd, but when they did a pattern emerged that became a regular feature of the entire debate – Rudd’s words and messages were most approved of by Labor voting women, least approved of by Liberal voting women and the men fell somewhere in the middle.

If we do the same for Abbott we get:



The audience reaction to the Opposition leader was much quicker – something that was also a regular occurrence throughout the debate. It was almost as if the audience gave the PM a larger benefit of the doubt. Worth noting is that Tony has a much more mixed reaction from partisan gender splits, where there is no obvious “poorest” cohort here between Labor voting men and women.

If we do the same again for each leader, but this time by age cohort, a few surprises emerge. Remember that these age cohorts will have a slight lean to Labor. The snapshots for these are again from the first 4 minutes of each leader’s opening statements – although they start when the PolliGraph first moves rather than at the very beginning.

For Rudd we have:



Something that occurs through the debate is the way each leader struggled at times with the 30-49 year cohort.

For Abbott we have:



Those over 50’s were actually a lot more volatile than one might expect when it came to their approval of Abbott. Not only were they volatile, but throughout the debate they were the cohort that reacted most negatively to Tony’s jokes. As an example, Sue Dunlevy asked Abbott if he would fund dental care via Medicare as he argued in Battlelines. In his answer, Abbott cracked a joke about anesthetists – watch the difference in reaction between the 30-49 cohort and the Over 50’s. (that link takes you to a flash file that will open up in a new browser window. Simply resize it to suit your senses)