Leaders' Debate – our preview and a sneak peek at the questions

Pundit picks which questions will be asked tonight and predicts which party will benefit most from the YouTube format. What are your picks?

When TVNZ announced a couple of weeks ago that it would be joining with YouTube for the first leaders' debate, featuring questions from ordinary New Zealanders, they said it would be "history-making".

Steve Grove, Head of News and Politics at YouTube, said “this debate and give all New Zealanders the chance to have their questions heard - and answered.”

Well, just 75 of us have seized democracy by the throat and taken that chance to post a questions. That's compared to the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who bought the 2.5 million lotto tickets sold last weekend.

You'd think YouTube would be pretty disappointed by just 75 people jumping in front of their webcams given the thousands involved in the CNN-YouTube debates in the US. But a spokeswoman says they're actually delighted by the response. On a per capita basis, New Zealand needed only 40-odd questions to match the US, she says, so we're actually doing well by their reckoning. She also noted that there's still time to post a question and be considered this afternoon, so if you have a doozy of a question burning away in your brain, get on it now.

Whether you're impressed by 75 or not, there are enough to get us through tonight as only 12-15 are likely to be chosen. And there are a few more that have been submitted but haven't been posted so that the leaders don't have the chance to prepare. It's good to know they have kept some back, as it counters one of the big weaknesses of this format. When TVNZ announced they would use the most popular questions, they gave the parties permission to prepare question-specific spin well before the cameras started rolling. YouTube admits as much, saying they expect the leaders' advisers to have scripted answers for each of the 75 questions so far posted.

So, what questions are likely to be asked tonight? We can all have a pretty good idea by looking at the most starred posts on the YouTube 08 Debate page, so why don't you take a look and let us know which you think will make the cut?

Judging by what's on the site, it's hardly wondrous insight to say that we can expect questions from mostly younger and male New Zealanders. We can also expect questions that are presented in a rather mumbly, awkward fashion. In that sense it will be very New Zealand!

Looking through the most popular questions, I suspect the format will benefit Helen Clark. The online world being largely populated by younger people, the questions tend to the liberal side of the spectrum, with a fair bit of green politics at play.

We can expect a question on student allowances and loans, which will play right into Labour's hands after Helen Clark's announcement yesterday. There will be at least one question on peak oil and/or petrol prices and/or public transport. I'd be very surprised if TVNZ doesn't use the woman dressed in a polar bear outfit and standing in her swimming pool, asking about climate change. It'll just make great television. Given the tone of the question, that will play into Clark's hands as well, as she will be able to accuse National of not supporting the Emissions Trading Scheme. Even the question about food production and support for the primary industries, which should be a National-friendly question, is couched in such as way as to allow Clark to hammer Key for saying he will do away with the hefty Fast Forward Fund for our food industries.

I suspect one of the questions from Jo and Adrian in Britain will be used. They were smart enough to film in front of a back-drop, and TVNZ will want to be seen to be including the diaspora in the debate. If it's Jo's, about maternity leave and what the parties will do for young families, Clark is well-placed to talk about 20 hours free early childcare and Working for Families. If Adrian's question about New Zealand's top tax rate is chosen, Key will be on surer footing.

Either this question about police safety or this one about violent crime is likely to make the starting line-up, as it opens up the law and order issue, another good one for Key. Although Clark can contrast Labour's $400m over four years on student allowances with National's $500m over four years on prisons and pitch Labour as the party of hope.

I'd expect to hear the question from the lad from Dunedin comparing household incomes in Australia and New Zealand, and that could be Key's best question of the night. For all I've argued about the misunderstanding around the comparisons with Australia, it's an issue that pushes people's buttons.

Questions about school zoning and dyslexia have a fair chance of being asked, but I can't see either affording Key or Clark a killer blow.

Here's hoping they use the question from the Upper Hutt boy who wants to know whether either party will commit to spending 0.7 percent of our Gross National Income on overseas aid, as per the United Nations target.

Potentially, the most revealing question of the night could be from Lucas, in Auckland, who wants to know on what terms each party leader would negotiate with the Maori Party, and what it it would mean for the Maori Party to be a "treaty partner". Yes, they could swat it away, but the "treaty partner" debate has huge and important implications.

Those are my punts. What are yours? Check out the YouTube page, pick your winners for tonight, and comment below.

Tune into TV One tonight at 7pm to see which are actually used and what the surprise questions are. And, of course, to witness an important clash of policies.

Those of you stuck at your terminals or overseas, we'll be blogging about it tonight, so come back to pundit to find out how it all went.