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The insta-polls in Britain remove any doubt as to who won last night's debate:

• A Times Populus poll conducted last night indicated that 61% of voters believed Clegg had won the night, compared with 22% for David Cameron and 17% for Gordon Brown.

• Research by YouGov for Tory-supporting Sun newspaper in the immediate aftermath of the programme put Clegg on an impressive 51%, David Cameron on 29% and Gordon Brown on 19%.

• A ComRes poll for ITV News showed Clegg was seen as the winner of the debate by 43% of the 4,032 viewers polled – nearly double Cameron's score of 26% and Brown's 20%.

Tim Russo thinks this could be a game-changer:

If the Lib Dems are actually seen by the electorate, for the long term, as a reasonable alternative governing party, after and because of this debate, it will be at the long term expense of the Tories.  British voters are tired of Labour, true, but big pluralities literally despise the Tories, and see them as nothing more than a hereditarily necessary political party.  If that necessity disappears, because the Liberal Democrats have become a legitimate alternative, the Tories could be knocked into oblivion for a very long time.

The studio audience shifted dramatically to the Liberal Democrats. And yet ... when you sift it to represent a broader swathe of the public, Cameron wins:

ComRes' research indeed puts a rather different complexion on the impact of Clegg's performance on the Liberal Democrat's ratings. The more representative sample puts the Liberal Democrats on 24% – a very gentle rise – Labour on 28% and the Tories leading with seven points on 35%.

Clegg himself has been smart enough to downplay any breakthrough. But it will be magnified by the impact of the first-ever televised debates in British political history. Which means the second one will be all the more critical.

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