Diving into the Debates

With all of the news and endless headlines over the past several months surrounding the debates, we decided to take an in-depth look, with the help of our data, for each debate to see first and foremost, what messages and trends were getting through to the American people and second, if these debates, one of America’s oldest political traditions, still hold any persuasion or weight despite this unconventional set of politicians.
According to our data, there was a steady buzz of conversation throughout September leading up to the first debate on September 26th. News channels were predicting record-breaking ratings, which held true with Nielsen reporting 84 million viewers throughout the first debate.
Conversation volume for debate #1 was 8x greater than the average volume surrounding both candidates. Unsurprisingly, the age demographics for those discussing Trump and Clinton during the debate were nearly equal across A18-64. The overall sentiment towards the candidates remained predominantly negative, however, Clinton’s was slightly more positive than Trump’s. Ideological arguments aside, it was astounding how many people across various demographics were discussing and engaging in the political discussion.
Despite the high level of audience engagement and viewership, the top trending items after debate #1 revolved around anything but the candidates political agenda. Suffice it to say, both trends were just as bizarre as the debate itself.
The second debate was arguably the most negatively received of all three debates. The sentiment for Trump and Clinton was essentially equal with both candidates polling at 70% negative.
Both candidates tried and failed to be relatable in this more intimate debate format, however, this setup clearly didn’t bode well with the audience. As we can see from the volume graph above, conversation volume declined significantly for this second debate only generating 6x more volume than the average Trump v. Clinton daily discussion. Perhaps Americans were already sick of talking about the largely repetitive and insult-driven debates.
Similar to the volume decline, the age demographics for the second debate differed drastically. Conversations were highest among A45-64, typically a more politically engaged demographic. In fact, A45-64 nearly doubled the conversation volume generated by A18-24.
In a strange twist, the number one trend emerging from Debate #2 was about undecided voter Ken Bone, and his infamous red sweater. Perhaps as a welcomed distraction from another lackluster debate, conversation around Ken Bone took over the online conversation surrounding this event.
After a series of scandals, online sentiment for Trump has been on a downward trajectory since the first debate. After Debate #3, negative sentiment for Trump hit its highest peak at 74%, while Clinton’s favorability was on the rise. To be clear, neither candidate saw stellar online sentiment throughout the debates. In comparison, President Obama retained a higher positive sentiment rating than both Trump and Clinton combined.
Following the trend of Debate #2, Debate #3 produced even lower conversation volume, only 4x the average daily amount. This downward sloping trend of conversation and high negative sentiment perhaps represented a rising level of frustration among Americans. The top two trends from the night – Trump’s “Bad Hombre” comment and Clinton’s “puppet” accusation – perhaps provides some further insight into the reason for this frustration.
Overall, we see Trump leading in conversation volume and “out trending” Clinton 3:1, but lagging in sentiment. Unsurprisingly, we see all of the negative trends and sentiment finally catching-up to trump in recent polls, perhaps underscoring the old maxim that not all attention is good attention. To monitor real-time election trends first-hand you can visit our Trend Pulse tool.

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