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Do TV debates make a difference?

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One of the big issues this election has been over whether the leaders should appear in TV debates. Janey Johnson looks into the issue.

Theresa May has been clear so far that she has no interest in taking part in any TV debates before the upcoming snap election on 8 June. Is she right to be focusing her time on endeavours she deems more important or is she wrong to so quickly snub TV debates if they do actually make a difference to voting?

On the one hand, we have been having general elections for much longer than televised debates which only begun in 2010, so it would be foolish to think TV debates are the sole reason for how people choose to vote. Additionally, the biggest current issue is Brexit, which has been spoken about so much already that the parties are all clear on their stances and it is likely the public have made up their minds once and for all too.

Despite this, one of the biggest success stories of TV debates came from Nick Clegg, whose popularity soared due to his impressive performances in TV debates in 2010. May, however, has made it clear she does not wish to partake in TV debates because she thinks meeting voters is more important. While this may appear as if she wants to do right by the voters, it is more likely that she actually just believes meeting people in the target areas is more beneficial to her and her campaign for votes than TV debates, even though they would arguably reach a much larger audience.

An empty podium merely gives the other parties more air time to argue their points and attack May, who won’t be able to defend herself in any way.

While May was more than quick to dismiss the idea of any TV debates, other leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon were just as quick to call the broadcasters to empty chair her. Even if May doesn’t see debating her rivals as beneficial, the prospect of an empty podium highlighting where the current Prime Minister should be may just cause more damage. An empty podium merely gives the other parties more air time to argue their points and attack May, who won’t be able to defend herself in any way. As well as this, regardless of what is debated, the overall image of it suggests that she is not confident enough to debate her ideas with Corbyn or anyone else directly in front of the public and perhaps she feels she will do more harm than good.

Therefore, while the debates held on TV can make a difference as we’ve seen previously with the Liberal Democrats, it is likely to be a small one in the overall scheme of things. However, it may be less to do with the content and more about actually bothering to show up, meaning May’s brash decision to ignore them as a platform to gain votes may do her more harm than she realises.

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