“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
That is an apt description of the English-language debate tonight, as the leaders ganged up on incumbent prime minister and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Trudeau often found himself defending his record, rather than explaining what he would do if re-elected.
As a result, he failed to break through in a significant way on social media, as measured by the Ipsos Political Atlas. The four opposition leaders joined together to gang up on their common enemy — a beleaguered prime minister with a record to defend and facing a lot of heat for calling the election in the first place.
According to the Ipsos Political Atlas, which monitors sentiment and volume on Twitter, Trudeau started the debate close to where he finished it: barely in positive territory on Twitter. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole fared similarly, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh lost ground before making it up near the end.
Ipsos’ Atlas measures sentiment and volume on Twitter and can act as a “leading indicator” of both how leaders perform as well as their overall reach into the social media universe.
The winner of the English-language debate was “none of the above,” as Twitter followers gradually tuned out after tuning in near the start. The most discussion was generated by Trudeau, but that discussion was decidedly mixed in sentiment. O’Toole generated about half the volume as Trudeau, while the other leaders generated far less volume overall.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul had a successful night, finishing with the most positive sentiment overall, but failing to generate a great deal of volume or debate. Paul faces a huge challenge in her own riding, and the Green Party has not led a national campaign as much as a series of local ones. She stands to benefit from the exposure, but has a big fight ahead of her.
Strong in the French debate the previous night, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet was slow to respond and defensive, trying to interject the Quebec perspective wherever he could. Blanchet ended the night with a slightly improved sentiment, but generated a low volume of discussion.
If Twitter is any guide, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh improved his campaign’s chances. Singh, like the other leaders, went after the prime minister, but didn’t land any effective points that registered on social media. He started and ended the night with a similar amount of positive sentiment.
The real discussion was all about Trudeau. He was the target of most of the attacks, on the defensive all night long, and facing attacks from all sides. The data from Twitter show that he failed to land any passionate points, despite trying to articulate the Liberal record from the past six years.
As the debate went on, Twitter tuned out. The level of engagement dropped after increasing considerably at the start of the debate.
The leader who will gain the most is O’Toole. He was confident, clear, and articulate, if not exciting. His policy articulation generated positive sentiment, especially his opening on the affordability file.
In a campaign that has basically been tied between the Liberals and Conservatives, the incumbent Liberal leader had the most to lose, and the challengers, especially O’Toole, the most to gain. Trudeau tried to make a passionate plea for his message, but he wasn’t able to articulate a vision on why he called the election, and found himself focused on what he had done, rather than what he would do.
According to Twitter, O’Toole may have won by not losing.
Gregory Jack is vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs