I thought I would sleep on the debate before commenting. I read, heard much of the pundit reaction. I've also seen this flash polls, and note the source in one case, client in the other, consider me unimpressed. The polls I find interesting, EKOS giving overnight numbers on CBC, plus this morning's Nanos offering.
It's important to remember the pre-debate context, as well as the Auditor General angle not really being incorporated. The frame was as such, Conservatives with big lead, Ignatieff needed a "knockout punch" to get back in the game. This designation had a short memory, after all the Dion Liberals moved to a statistical tie in 2008 (3% Nanos, 4% Harris Decima) after the debate, and I don't recall any knockout variety exchanges in those debates. Last election aside, the pre-debate designation this time was confronted by a maelstrom story, breaking right before the debates. EKOS' Frank Graves was on CBC just prior to the debate and noted a substantial move in overnight polling, the lead down to 5.5% nationally, 3.7% MOE, a quickly tightening race. We also had Nanos out at 4pm, showing a huge fall for Harper's leadership score, a full 7% on trust. Combined, some compelling evidence that the Auditor General G8 scandal had penetrated beyond the chattering classes. This potential reality changed the debate dynamics, if we are seeing a pre-debate tightening, then the knockout punch simply isn't required, the frame DATED.
Nanos out this morning, and while the nationals are stagnant today, we do see the Liberal now slightly ahead in Ontario and some narrowing in British Columbia, a province Graves also singled out yesterday as changing rapidly, Conservative vote falling. Nanos shows the Liberals falling in Quebec, which offsets, but tonight we have the Quebec debate. I think the most recent polls, leadership, demonstrate that the race maybe closer electorally than previous assumed. With that contention in mind, Ignatieff's performance last night needs to be viewed within a more moderate lens.
The one glaring omission in the analysis I've read, hardly anyone plugged in the abysmal pre-debate Ignatieff impressions. A superficial negative impression, Anderson from Harris Decima added people really didn't know Ignatieff. Everyone knows Harper, Layton and Duceppe. While I think they all did well last night, Layton with the best "zingers", Harper's remained calm, Duceppe his usual self, I didn't see much where voters learned anything. As for Ignatieff, I thought he did fine, some very strong moments, a couple small stumbles, but overall he did well. If one was waiting for that nauseating knockout blow, then clearly disappointed, Harper wins by not losing. However, I don't think we needed that blow, and I don't think low expectations of Ignatieff properly plugged into the logic.
I think Ignatieff exceeded Canadians low impression of him, as Allan Gregg pointed out, simply not drooling and cobbling together a sentence, probably raised the bar. Ignatieff presented himself as an alternative to Harper, we saw clear policy direction distinctions. Ignatieff was a DRAG on Liberal numbers, his low standing capping our growth ability. I would argue less apprehension now than prior, and while not a big voter mover today, at least more openness to reconsider. It may well take a few days for the impact to shakeout, factor in the immediate French debate, within a scandal breaking in the midst, I'm not sure normal "reads" are worth much at this point. This isn't to say Harper didn't do well in the debate, only we are in a uniquely fluid situation at the moment, so assumptions need to incorporate this fast debate turnover, emerging issues that are indicating real resonance. Time will tell...