Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Hitchens-Blair Debate: It's Was a Tie!


I thought Hitchens did a much better job that Tony Blair but it's hard to be unbiased. Here are the results of the poll before and after the debate.

On the question "Is Religion a Force for Good?"

Before the debate ...

Yes (Blair): 22%
No (Hitchens): 57%
Undecided: 21%

After the debate

Yes (Blair): 32%
No (Hitchens): 68%

Both speakers increased their numbers by about 10%. In simplistic terms, the undecided members of the audience split 50:50 on the question.

That's a tie by my calculation. The blogosphere is reporting this as a huge victory for Hitchens but it didn't seem that way in Massey Hall in Toronto. Just because Hitchens started out with 57% of the votes doesn't mean he won the debate. (Although I think he did.)


  1. On that topic, I doubt that there were any undecided. There were what might be called "the politely undecided" - those who chose not to express their position before the debate, because of the theoretical possibility that they might be persuaded to change their minds.

  2. Christopher talks to Jeremy Paxman. 7:30pm (GMT) BBC2 Monday 29th December.
    A Newsnight Special. A wide ranging interview about his politics, writing and cancer diagnosis.

  3. @nwrickert
    Before the debate, they all were asked if they thought they were open to change their minds. About 75% answered "Yes", IIRC.

  4. I was there at the event (it was great) and when the final percentages were announced outside the hall after the voting was done (and which may not have been televised), the moderator announced that: "technically, Hitchens won" or the like as his percentage had gone up more than Blair's had.

  5. Was anyone expecting any other outcome? It's not as if any kind of definite conclusion could be made on the whole issue. I certainly don't see anyone changing their religious beliefs over this. These kind of debates always end with each side claiming a victory and little else being accomplished.

  6. It seems both sides were content with anecdotes for the most part. Look at this bad stuff, look at this good stuff. But the question would seem to be whether religion is overall a factor for good, which no one addressed, as far as I can tell.

    I would say both sides lost, myself.

  7. I think a better analysis is like this.

    Hitchens had 44% of people to convert, of which his arguments swayed 25% of those people.

    Blair had 78% of people to convert, of which he swayed 12.5% (approx).

    It was much harder for Hitchens to increase his percentage before and after in real terms, as you're using, because he had a much smaller number of people to be able to convert.

  8. There are a few ways to splice the numbers, but most of them would show the greatest gain to Blair. View it like a political vote - which side gained the most. Pre-debate the ratio was 2.6:1 in favor of Hitchens, but afterwards the ratio dropped to 2.1:1.

    Blair jumped by 10 percentage points (which is a 45% increase).

    Hitchens jumped by 11 percentage points (which is a 16% increase).

    To illustrate this a bit more dramatically (2.6:1 vs 2.1:1 doesn't sound like much), let's say that there were a lot more undecideds 11% Blairites, 28% Hitcheners, and 61% undecided. (I just halved the percentages of pre-decideds)

    H-ners still outnumber B-ites by 2.5:1. After the debate the results would show 40% B-ites and 60% H-ners. Hitchens is still in the lead, but the gap narrowed dramatically, the ratio is now 1.5:1.