US polling expert reviews David Cameron's Letterman peformance

Emily Hunt

Last night, David Cameron followed the well-worn path of celebrities and politicians straight into the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City to be interviewed by David Letterman. President Obama was on last week, and Tony Blair stopped by in 2009 and 2010. Cameron is the first sitting Prime Minister to visit the late night talk show, and ostensibly went on the show to promote doing business in Britain on the heels of a very successful London Olympics.

Though a bit stiff in his entrance, and clearly trying to affect a more laid-back demeanour, Cameron made it through relatively unscathed. However, after missing a few key questions that have left his PPE tutors cringing (Magna Carta means “Great Charter”), everyone is asking whether he’d pass a surprise “Life in the UK” quiz as he passes through Border Control at Heathrow.

Although the headline will always be 'Cameron failed his history test', his performance on Letterman succeeded in its general intent. The appearance made him seem engaging, nearly humourous, an easy communicator and generally knowledgeable. The BBC helpfully interviewed audience members outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater just after the taping, and confirmed that American audience deemed him “sharp”, “likeable”, “well-spoken”, and “relaxed”.

Even with a reported three million Americans tuning in, the England-themed Letterman show didn’t exactly make the list as “What to Watch” on Wednesday. The interview – and Cameron’s prep for it -- has been covered widely by the British Media, but was largely untouched in the American press overnight. While we are watching here, there’s a possibility that the American audience used the time to Google “Who composed Rule Britannia” or just get a snack. Perhaps they even looked up air fares to London for their next holiday – and if they did, then perhaps the appearance was a success not just for Cameron but for the post-Games UK as well.

Emily Hunt is Director of Insights at Edelman Berland, Edelman’s insights & analytics subsidiary. She has an MA in Political Campaign Management from New York University and, before moving to London six years ago, worked as field director and researcher on American political campaigns before moving into polling.

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