Well, that was interesting. The second major TV debate between eight party leaders actually allows us to draw a few conclusions. It could possibly even be a game-changer, though this year changing the game doesn’t mean winning 10 seats, but rather 3 or 4.
Remember: Wilders refused to attend, which led to Thieme (PvdD) being invited. I am starting to think Wilders has made a mistake here. See below under Buma.
Briefly, I expect 50Plus, GL, and the CDA to win some seats due to this debate, D66 and possibly the SP to remain stable, and the rest, including the PVV, to lose. Let’s see how badly this prediction does when the first post-debate polls come out. (I hope De Hond releases his tonight; for the others we’ll likely have to wait until Wednesday.)
Update: De Hond (Peil.nl) does not see any changes in today's poll, but notes quite correctly that he didn't see them last week, either, even though that they were visible in the later polls. So we'll have to wait until Wednesday, most likely, before we can see what the effect, if any, of the debate has been.
Before the inevitable debate winner poll results were announced I made my own list, and I’m going to follow it here. Although a rhetorical victory is very nice and good, changing your party’s trajectory upward is what it’s all about in this late stage campaigning. As far as I can see Krol (50Plus), Klaver (GL), and Buma (CDA) succeeded; the others didn’t.
Henk Krol (50Plus) had a very strong debate, mostly on the force of his considerable capacity for entertainment, and also because of the not-so-subtle way he managed to get pension age reduction into just about any discussion. 50Plus will likely reverse course and return to the 8-10 seats it had three weeks ago. The question is: from which party do these voters come? The left, or the right? Reading between the lines of the polls I’d say mostly the right, since that’s where they went three weeks ago.
Also, I place Krol at the top of my list because his strong performance was totally unexpected.
Jesse Klaver (GL) probably managed to take the coveted position of Leader of the Left due to his strong presence and Roemer’s and Asscher’s inability to break through.
And Klaver had a surprise in store. The question was whether we have insufficiently protected our own culture (i.e. allowed all the muslims to take over our cherished blah). This was supposed to be a right-wing softball question, where the CDA and 50Plus said Yes, predictably, and the PvdA, equally predictably, said No. Traditional lines in the sand, pity Wilders isn’t here, nothing to see here but let’s blah for a few minutes anyway.
Klaver surprised everyone by saying Yes as well. Yes, we have insufficiently protected our culture of tolerance and inclusivity. He said he would never get used to being trolled as a Moroccan (he’s half-Moroccan, actually) who should go back to his own country, and related this to the way migrant children must feel. Strong stuff, if you are on the left. And who knows, it might even give some centrists pause.
In any case, this novel approach to the decline of our culture is a good one, and it bears repeating. I suspect many exasperated left-wingers will in fact start repeating it.
Anyway, he did well, and Roemer and especially Asscher did not. Thus my guess that GL might take the leadership on the left. That doesn’t mean PvdA and SP will disappear, but GL will likely take over a few of their seats.
Sybrand van Haersma Buma (CDA) is a good debater, though I regularly notice I rate him higher than the average journalist. Also, I think he’s funny in a very dry way. But today it’s not about the man or his performance, but about Buma achieving what he set out to do: convince more PVV voters to turn to the reliably conservative CDA.
Last week he proposed that each day school children should sing the national anthem while standing up, something that the other parties ridiculed. He repeated it during the debate, however, which clearly shows this is the way the CDA wants to highlight its conservatism. Also, too, the clearest shift since the last debate is 2 seats from PVV to CDA. Buma wants more — and he feels this is the way to get them.
Alexander Pechtold (D66) was as good a debater as always, but his problem was that he didn’t clearly grow relative to last week’s debate. The other four party leaders from that debate did.
He was strong whenever he got the chance; such as during the Europe questions, where he accused Rutte of acting like a PVV man when speaking to the voters at home, but a D66 man when speaking to the other European leaders in Brussels. And he certainly wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t the clear winner of the debate, either.
Emile Roemer (SP) was better than last week, but since the others were better as well, this went largely unnoticed. He got in some good jokes, and managed to get the SP point of view across. Still, he didn’t land the knockout blow he needed.
The big question for the SP is how much Roemer was outclassed by Klaver, and whether they’ll lose any votes to GL. Too soon to tell, but if the SP stays even in the poll Roemer won’t have done too badly.
Mark Rutte (VVD) didn’t exactly disappoint, but I personally felt that there was a disconnect between his functions as prime minister and as VVD leader. He posed as the succesful, experienced prime minister, but he may have been too busy to defend his record — including the promise he did back in 2012 of not sending any more money to Greece, which he ultimately didn’t oppose.
Also, I expect him to turn hard right in order to capture some PVV voters while Wlders was absent. He did not do that at all, but instead left it to Buma. In fact, Rutte said Yes to the question whether we need a stronger Europe now more than ever. That’s honest from a prime-ministerial point of view, but doesn’t help him as VVD party leader.
Lodewijk Asscher (PvdA) was a little better than last week, but I felt the same disconnect as with Rutte, only stronger. They talk kind-of the same, which is not surprising seeing that they just spent 4.5 years in the same coalition. Next to Klaver and Roemer, the PvdA talking points sounded vague and unconvincing and Asscher himself was invisible, even though he had clearly practiced his statesman-like pose.
Asscher was also unlucky. He was the first party leader to be invited to a one-on-one Q&A with another journalist who asked very weird questions. In Asscher’s case it was mostly about how there was no “Asscher effect” and the PvdA was still doing badly in the polls. Also, she didn’t allow Asscher to finish his sentences. These one-on-ones were easily the worst feature of the debate, and that continued until Henk Krol, who was fourth or fifth, managed to shut her up. After that the questions became more normal, but the damage to Asscher had already been done.
Marianne Thieme (PvdD), finally, was clearly nervous and refused to play the same game as the other seven. She used every opportunity to present animal-rights PvdD as the true green party in rather esoteric phrases. It is possible that this appeals to her voters, and it is clear she was attacking GL for being insufficiently green, but I wonder if her attempt succeeded. Still, she’s doing pretty well in the polls, so maybe this is exactly what potential PvdD-voters wanted to hear.
This debate may be more game-changey than the previous one, but, as I said before, I expect a move of about 3-4 seats instead of the 10-15 we saw moving from SP to PvdA in 2012.
Also, the official winner in the post-debate winner poll results was Klaver, but the numbers one to four were so close that this win is not statistically significant. (The voted-on order was Klaver, Pechtold, Rutte, Krol, Roemer, Buma, Asscher, Thieme. Quite different than mine, as you’ll notice.)
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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.
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