Conservative Debate: Liz Truss Grabs Attention, Rishi Sunak Gets Votes

MindProber’s UK home panel agrees with the Sky News Battle for Nº10 live audience: Rishi Sunak won the Conservative debate! In a session where UK registered voters followed the debate live while wearing MindProber’s sensor and mobile app, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer registered a more emotionally balanced performance compared to his rival and former Cabinet colleague Liz Truss. 

This was a debate that had a different format than usual. Each candidate answered audience questions before seating for an interview with Kay Burley in separate moments of the show. Rishi Sunak’s interventions scored an average Impact score of 548, 20% lower than the score of Ms Truss (677).

Ms Truss’s interventions generated a greater arousal level. But they also were classified as being more negative, with an average 0.06 Valence score. In contrast, Mr Sunak’s interventions gather a 0.28 Valence score, almost 6x of that of Ms Truss. 

A Tale of Two Debates

The contrast between the two Conservative candidates is even starker when we divide their interventions between Audience Questions and Moderator Interviews. Mr Sunak’s performance was reasonably stable across the debate. Liz Truss, meanwhile, had two completely different moments.

Ms Truss had a very impactful and positive performance when facing Audience Questions (Impact: 715; Valence: 0.31). This contrasts with her bleak interview facing tougher questions from Kay Burley (Impact: 633; Valence: -0.23). This was the part where Ms Truss’s performance suffered the most, in particular when she spoke about Boris Johnson.

The Legacy of Boris Johnson for the Conservative Party

As the inciting incident of this election, Boris Johnson and his resignation were always going to be a hot topic. Both candidates answered tough questions about Johnson’s issues. Liz Truss’s defence of the still current Prime Minister cost her the debate result.

As one of the few Cabinet Ministers that stood by Boris Johnson when he resigned, Liz Truss continues to show her support to the PM in a platform that sees her as the guarantee of continuity in government. It was this defence that marked her lowest point in the debate, as the audience didn’t agree with her position. 

Answering to Kay Burley characterization of Boris Johnson as someone that “has betrayed the office of Prime Minister”, Ms Truss’s intervention got a 681 Impact score (11% higher than the rest of the debate) showing that it was a highly arousing moment. However, the intervention failed to connect with the audience, gathering a -1.66 Valence score (9x times lower than the debate average). The live audience reactions and our panel members feedback, shows that Ms Truss’ defence of Boris Johnson fails to gather support.

In contrast, when Mr Sunak defence of the accusation of “backstabbing” the PM, got a lowest Impact score (458, 25% lower than the average) and a 0.32 Valence score (88% higher than the average) which indicates that convinced the audience.

The defence of Boris Johnson clearly damaged Ms Truss’s performance. Her intervention was at odds with the audience. Mr Sunak in the meantime managed to maintain his flow when poked with the subject.

Rishi Sunak had a better all-around performance

The format of the debate made it that each candidate answered a different set of broad questions. This makes it harder to compare how they fared on each of the topics. Using state-of-the-art AI Speech-to-text software we were able to aggregate each candidate’s answers to questions related to a set of relevant policy topics. Then we calculated the impact and valence scores for each theme, as you can see in the picture below.

While Liz Truss’s interventions were more arousing, they were rated less favourably. The exception being the discussion around the NHS. Most strikingly, Mr Sunak had a better performance on the topic of Foreign Policy. A theme that is seen as a weakness and one where Ms Truss, as Secretary of Foreign Affairs would be more comfortable.

And while in terms of Economy one would expect a commanding performance from Rishi Sunak, it is interesting that when it comes to questions about the Leadership of the Country, his proposals were also better received by the audience.

Liz Truss is the favourite to win

Despite losing the debate, Liz Truss still came out as the favourite to win the Conservative leadership. Our panellists give her a 55% probability of winning, compared to 45% in favour of Rishi Sunak. This result is also a positive one for Mr Sunak. In a similar poll prior to the debate, Ms Truss vantage was wider, with 63% of the panelists choosing her to win vs 37% in favour of Rishi Sunak.

This change speaks to the disparity of the performances when Mr Sunak managed to gain 8 percentage points after a short intervention.

This change was more pronounced when the panel members told about their likelihood to vote for each of the candidates. Before the debate, Liz Truss gather a 2.54 (on a scale of 1 to 5), compared to a 2.44 for Rishi Sunak. When prompted with the same question at the end, the scales flipped. Then, Mr Sunak gathered a 2.96 score of voting intention, while Ms Truss saw a drop to 2.44.

Conservative Debate: Wrapping things up

On the whole,  Liz Truss created a more impactful impression on the audience, if not a particularly positive one. While Mr Sunak had a less emotionally impactful performance, but gather rather more positive feedback from the audience. In the end, 72% of our panellists gave the victory to Rishi Sunak against 28% to Liz Truss. And while our panellists think that Ms Truss is the favourite to win, there is still a long road ahead. And that Mr Sunak’s campaign would benefit from head-to-head debates to gain more support among Conservative voters.

Session Notes

This session was done live during the broadcast of the Sky News “Battle for Nº 10” debate, on August 4, with 92 registered UK voters that watched the debate while wearing MindProber James Two biometric sensor and MindProber Mobile App, for registering biometric and declarative data during the length of the broadcast.

The participants also filled out a survey before the debate about their political preferences and evaluated the two candidates, and another survey, at the end of the broadcast, judged the performance of the candidates during the broadcast.

MindProber platform gathers second-by-second physiological and declarative data, which allows producing more insights that can then be crossed with AI-powered speech-to-text software for granular analysis.

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