Vast audience watched BBC leaders’ debate as election interest soars

Last night's BBC leaders' debate.   Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Last night's BBC leaders' debate. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

A massive audience watched last night’s pre-election leaders’ debate, in what might be a sign that turnout is about to increase when people go to the polls tomorrow.

In a futher hint that the public are far more energised by this election than they were almost a year ago, the audience for the BBC debate leapt by 75% from that which watched the corresponding debate last year.

The figures follow a significant increase for the UTV leaders’ debate a fortnight ago - which was watched by 42% more people than a year ago - and increases in viewing figures for other pre-election television programmes.

Election Diary: Might bigger TV politics audience point to an increased turnout?

Tuesday night’s debate was watched on BBC One Northern Ireland by an average of 172,000 people - 31% of all people watching TV in Northern Ireland at the time. The network average for that slot is 24%. Those figures do not include those who watched it on the BBC News Channel.

Last year’s pre-election debate had an average audience of 98,000 people, an 18% share of the total audience.

Last year’s debate went out an hour earlier - in the 8pm to 9pm slot - but even accounting for that difference, the share of the total audience was still up 72%.

The figures are based on overnight viewing data and do not include all viewers who have recorded the programme or will watch it on the BBC iPlayer.

The BBC debate, which was chaired by veteran Noel Thompson in front of a studio audience, involved the leaders of the five biggest parties – Arlene Foster (DUP), Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein), Mike Nesbitt (UUP), Colum Eastwood (SDLP) and Naomi Long (Alliance).