Michael Idato July 26, 2010
Given the amount of attention Julia ''fair dinkum'' Gillard and Tony ''action contract'' Abbott paid to their impeccable appearance on no fewer than five channels last night - Seven, Nine, ABC1, Sky and ABC News 24 - it seems almost a shame neither was the actual star of the show.
Rather, all eyes were glued to the worm, if you were watching Channel Nine, or the polliegraph, if you were watching Seven.
As tools for measuring the electorate they work in distinctly different ways - the worm by monitoring the mood of undecided voters and the polliegraph by doing the same with a sample of the broad spectrum of political views - and, as a rule, politicians don't like either.
John Howard, for example, took an infamously dim view of the worm. In hindsight that doesn't seem as bad as it sounds when you consider the worm, more often than not, took an equally dim view of Howard.
Though at times it felt more like a press conference, the debate was moderated effectively by David Speers of Sky, while questions were fired from ''the panel'' - Malcolm Farr of The Daily Telegraph, Laura Tingle of The Australian Financial Review and Chris Uhlmann of the ABC - who, perched in the orchestra pit, often looked uncomfortably like a team competing in the over-50s edition of It's Academic.
Both polling tools were used to measure appeal across gender lines, though at times the worm and the polliegraph delivered almost opposite results. The winner, by a long measure, was Seven's polliegraph, which delivered a more diverse, lively result than Nine's worm, which spent too much time flatlining. (Proof, perhaps, those ''undecided'' voters are still undecided.)
We learnt two very important things - the first is that Abbott failed to learn from his health debate with Kevin Rudd that voters don't like it when he (a) bags the government, or (b) is a smartarse, and the second is that Gillard can stretch like few thespians can, delivering a closing argument so long it left her rival talking up his credentials while the MasterChef opening credits rolled over on Ten, the only commercial network not to air the debate live.
Gillard may have the campaign trail sewn up, but there are no prizes for guessing who will win the ratings.