6 Oct 2023

Minor party leaders debate: The long and the short of it as Peters, Seymour clash again

9:12 am on 6 October 2023
Election 2023: Stylised illustrations of James Shaw, Winston Peters, Rawiri Waititi and David Seymour with speech bubbles.

Photo: RNZ

David Seymour and Winston Peters resumed their hostilities in a multi-party debate where neither of the two were judged winners.

RNZ's analysis of last night's TVNZ multi-party debate found Seymour and Peters clearly ahead of James Shaw and Rawiri Waititi on the number of words spoken in the debate. But Peters was described as "flat-footed" by commentators, who preferred the performances of Shaw and Waititi.

Former National Party press secretary Janet Wilson, former Labour Party MP Kris Faafoi, and RNZ's Guyon Espiner all agreed Peters lacked the fire he's brought to previous appearances.

"Winston was flat-footed, he had no policy, he didn't come up with any new ideas," Wilson said.

They all thought Shaw performed well, with Wilson giving Waititi a first equal spot with Shaw.

Read more analysis from the previous debates:

Who talked the most?

RNZ's data analysis found Seymour got out the most discernible words spoken during the debate, ahead of Peters. This was a reversal from the last multi-party debate on Newshub two weeks ago, where Peters edged Seymour. But again, the two were much more verbose than the co-leaders representing the Greens and Te Pāti Māori.

The ACT leader said 3244 discernable words during the debate, accounting for 25 percent of the words spoken. Peters was second at 20 percent. Shaw (16 percent) and Waititi (15 percent) were behind the ACT and NZ First leaders.

In the Newshub Powerbrokers' debate, it was Peters who narrowly took top spot, with 23 percent, and Seymour second with 22 percent. Green co-leader Marama Davidson spoke 14 percent of words and Te Pāti Māori's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer spoke 13 percent.

Seymour gave the longest uninterrupted answer to a question, saying 252 words in defence of his party's call for a referendum on the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Seymour had seven of the top 10 longest uninterrupted answers.

The snappiest answers of the debate came from Waititi who gave one word answers to three different questions. He answered "never" to moderator Jack Tame's question if it was okay for politicians to lie, named "poverty" as the cause of crime and said "absolutely" when asked if he had ever voted for a party he didn't represent. He was the only leader to give single word answers.

What was said

"People" was the most repeated word for all leaders except Rawiri Waititi, who said "Māori" the most, followed by "people".

RNZ counted how many times each leader used certain words which relate to key topics. The most mentioned keyword was "Māori", followed by "tax".

Climate, which wasn't mentioned at all in Newhub's debate, came in third place, with all the leaders saying the word more than once.

Dodging the hard questions

A common tactic to avoid answering a question is to use what's referred to as a 'block and bridge'. The politician acknowledges the question using a 'block' and then uses a 'bridge' phrase to move the topic to something they are more comfortable with.

Peters topped the ranking, using common block terms seven times. Seymour scored the lowest.

What was the vibe?

According to a language sentiment data dictionary, which rates words as either positive, neutral or negative, Waititi used the highest percentage of positive words, followed by Seymour. Seymour also used the most negative words of the leaders.

How we analysed the data: The debate was transcribed by Otter.ai and then manually cleaned to improve accuracy. Cross talk - where debate participants spoke over each other was removed where words were unintelligible. Interjections when intelligible were included. Text was analysed using R and the Quanteda package.

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