NZ Election 2020: How the world compared Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins debate with Donald Trump, Joe Biden event

New Zealand and the United States held two very different debates on Wednesday (NZT) with their nations' top political figures vying for the leadership role.

At about 2pm, Donald Trump took on former vice-President Joe Biden in a debate which has been widely condemned as a "hot mess", dominated by the candidates bickering, insulting each other and ignoring the agreed-upon format.

It was so unruly that the Commission on Presidential Debates, which organises the debates every four years, is considering significant changes for the next contest in two weeks time. It's been reported in the US that the group is considering cutting candidates' microphones off if they violate the rules.

Just hours later, at 7:30pm, Newshub hosted Jacinda Ardern and her opponent Judith Collins. In contrast to the US event, the New Zealand debate has been widely praised, with commentators from both sides of the political aisle acknowledging the candidates' energy.

The Guardian on Thursday shared a video highlighting "a contrast of styles" between the debates, using snippets from each.

While the New Zealand debate did see Collins and Ardern interrupt each other on numerous occasions and make jabs - albeit more respectfully than in the US debate - the Guardian chose to represent the debate's tone by including the section where the leaders described each other's brands.

"She means well and I think she is well-intentioned and I think too that she is a very, very good communicator," Collins said.

Ardern said Collins was "very assertive in a debate", to which the National Party leader said: "Damn right". 

The video also showed Collins complimenting Ardern for being well-known on the international stage and Ardern saying she has never called Collins by her "Crusher" nickname in private. 

The United States debate was demonstrated by snippets of Biden calling Trump "a liar" and a "clown" while also at one point telling the current President to "shut up". The video also included Trump saying Biden wasn't smart and insulting his son. That debate didn't see the presidential candidates compliment each other.

In the comments below the YouTube video, which has been viewed more than 43,000 times, one user said while the New Zealand debate "wasn't quite as civil" as portrayed by The Guardian, "holy smokes was it infinitely more bearable than the American one".

"NZ: Debate between two humbled people. US: Debate between narcissists," another person said.

"Genuinely civil society, versus extremely manipulative suppressive tribalism. Take your pick. I’m going with New Zealand," added another.

"New Zealand’s debate was certainly worlds better than America’s, but this is cherrypicked nonsense."

Some commentators argued comparing the two was unfair.

"The stakes are so different you are comparing being the leader of the free world to running a mini land mass no one cares about," said one user.

"NZ and it's citizens are completely different, though. They have a completely different history, completely different outlook on life, life goals, landmass size, etc. Comparing apples to oranges. Compared to any other country in the world, America is it's own beast," said another.

"It's [apples] to [oranges]. US has a different culture that's more brash, rough and tough. We have a different set of problems and it's aggressively competitive in every aspect. We place first in a lot of areas compared to the world so we ferociously fight and jockey for position constantly. It only makes sense our leaders are battle tested and ready to fit the society they lead."

But that didn't stop some reputable media outlets.

CNN's digital producer Ben Westcott said hours after the US debate "a very different exchange played out on the other side of the Pacific". 

"Two women, a combined 50 years younger than the gray-haired men vying for the US presidency, were having a comparatively civil debate about the future leadership of New Zealand."

The article acknowledges that while Ardern and Collins "clashed and argued", they also "laughed and complimented each other".

It says Ardern and Collins "were reasonably polite" and that the debate "rarely turned personal". 

"Sometimes they shared a joke and even agreed on some serious issues, including strict coronavirus prevention measures to maintain New Zealand's eradication of the disease."

Over at The New York Times, Damien Cave the bureau chief in Sydney, writes that while "President Trump and Joe Biden were drawing comparisons to dumpster fires inside a train wreck this week, Ms. Ardern and her opponent, Judith Collins… were engaging in an intense debate with just a few interruptions".

It notes that the upcoming New Zealand election "has the potential to be historic - as a marker of consensus, not division". On some recent polling, the Labour Party could govern alone, something no party has been unable to achieve since MMP began. 

New Zealand's general election will be held on October 17, while the United States' election day is November 3.