NZ Election 2020: Reaction to Leaders Debate between Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins

Experts and the public weighed in with their verdict on the Newshub Leaders Debate between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins.

Speaking to Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien afterwards, Collins said she felt it was "a much more robust debate tonight" and wouldn't call herself the winner like she did last week.

Ardern would not give herself a rating on her performance. She said she prefers a debate when there is "not so much crossover" in answers and this time she decided to step in a bit more by not letting Collins talk over her.

Here's a round-up of the best analysis from experts and the public.

Newshub's political panel reacts

So who won the debate? Appearing on Newshub political panel, The Hui host Mihingarangi Forbes said both leaders were quick - "half and half".

Right-leaning commentator Trish Sherson said both of the leaders "upped the energy" but said it's a forum Collins revels in.

The commentators said Ardern picked up a bit more near the end of the debate, but Collins was thought to be a bit stronger.

Sherson said the clanger for Collins was around her comments on Trump and how she praised him for his actions on peace in the Middle East. Sherson said those comments by Collins were not necessary.

She said Ardern's response on trading on New Zealand's brand as the solution to the country's growth was weak.

Forbes pointed out how Ihumātao is a tricky topic for Ardern because she never went there and neither she nor Collins have the answer.

Sherson said Collins is trying to speak to the farmer base and the business base, but she said Ardern came to the debate with a "much fresher energy" and has probably realised that "the game has changed" after Collins was widely considered to have won last week's debate.

The Hui host Mihingarangi Forbes said "it's a start" that Ardern is showing interest in making Te Reo Māori a compulsory language, and think it was "a worry" that Collins is only concerned about making two languages compulsory.

Sherson said New Zealand is lucky to have a debate of such quality with leaders of such quality.

Political commentators weigh in

Commentators are now giving their verdicts - and praising the debate for its high energy.

Conservative political commentator Liam Hehir, who was formerly active in the National Party, told Newshub it was a "lively debate".

"In the first debate, Jacinda Ardern did come across as a big sluggish at times. That was not the case tonight and the Labour leader was more than willing to hold her ground and even take the argument to Judith Collins. However, an inability to answer direct questions on difficult questions when pressed put the Prime Minister on the defensive at various points," he said.

"For her part Judith Collins had no compunction at making comments that seemed designed to get under Ardern's skin. At times she succeeded but sometimes appeared to go over the line. There was an audible gasp when she referred to the Prime Minister as the diminutive 'dear' and I am not sure that would have played well with the audience.

"Nothing surprising happened and few people would have been swayed either way. Skilful moderation did allow Patrick Gower to draw out some meaningful answers and voters will be better off for it."

Victoria University political analyst and researcher Dr Bryce Edwards called it a "rollicking good debate".

"That was brought alive by Patrick Gower's dynamic approach, an increasingly-confident Judith Collins, and a revitalised Jacinda Ardern who raised her energy levels from the last Leaders Debate," he told Newshub.

"We learnt quite a lot, and saw plenty of personality in the leaders. There were also plenty of clangers and gaffes that were entertaining and revealing.

"But the problem was that there was no real big-picture ideological contest in evidence. It's not that the two leaders were exactly the same, but the differences weren't that stark. They both came across as leaders of the status quo, rather than offering distinctly different visions for running the country."

Twitter reacts to Leaders Debate

Comment ran hot on Twitter, with both sides claiming victory in a hotly contested battle.

"JudithCollinsMP's debate performance was the best we have seen by any leader for decades, and is probably only rivalled by David Lange in 1984," said former National staffer Matthew Hooten.

"Jacinda Ardern did incomparably better in this debate. Lots more energy, clearer in her message, slapped back when needed. Wasn't a flawless performance but pretty bloody good and I think she got the better of Collins," said former senior Labour adviser Neale Jones.

And moderator Patrick Gower also came in for praise.

"This leaders debate is so entertaining! Paddy's getting the politicians to open up in a way that's hard to achieve in a debate setting. Outstanding work @patrickgowernz," broadcaster Chris Lynch tweeted.