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Reliving the Presidential Debates (You Know You Want To)

The Presidential debates have come to a close and believe it or not, we are only a week away from the 2012 election! As we wrap up this election cycle, we look back at how the internet felt about the Presidential Debates with a little help from social media analysis.

As social network use grows exponentially, more and more feedback, opinions, and ideas are available—making this one of the most fascinating election cycles yet. Each debate has drawn record-breaking tweets, Facebook comments, and forum and blog conversation, allowing us to learn even more about honest public opinion. We aren’t talking about what people say to pollsters but what they are saying to friends, family, and of course, followers. Social media is more relevant than ever in deciphering the public’s feelings and opinions, and both candidates are making the most of this on networks like Twitter, Facebook, and their own websites and mobile apps.

While the candidates fought it out on stage, the public tweeted, blogged, and Facebooked opinions, jokes and questions about them. By looking at this massive amount of data, we can begin to get an idea of what the public liked, disliked, and couldn’t stop discussing.

The Battlefield

Whom was the public interested in talking about? We can determine which man had the larger amount of conversation about him by filtering posts and comparing the numbers to get “Share of Voice”. In a quick search on our social monitoring platform, Visible Intelligence®, we can look at mentions of the two candidates from forums, twitter, blogs, Facebook, and more to determine this for each debate.

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Obama (Blue) held 55.8% of the nation’s internet discussion in the first debate, lowering to 54.7% for the second debate and then up to 56.3% for the final debate. Romney (Red) started at 44.2% and grew to 45.3% at the end of the second debate, finishing with 43.7% for the final.

The Feelings

Taking this a step further, we can dive into what the general sentiment was about each candidate. By looking at only posts that express a sentiment (that is, they express an opinion that is positive or negative as opposed to neutral) we can understand the tone being used to discuss these men. First, a look at public sentiment for each candidate:

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Obama (top bar) has more sentimented posts about him, but a similar ratio between positive and negative to Romney (lower bar), hovering around 80% negative to 19% positive and about 1% mixed.

That is all well and fine, but what were the people talking about when they were talking about the candidates?  We looked at all posts about the candidates for the day of and immediately following each debate and then pulled out all posts that were “sentimented.” We then drilled down further, pulling out what the most common terms were in these posts, providing insight into what people who are passionate are talking about! Below, a few of these terms for each candidate. Some terms were strictly used in positive posts, some in negative, and the final row includes terms common in both positive and negative posts.

Obama Debate Sentiment

Romney Debate Sentiment

Many of these terms are expected—words like ‘Policy’, ‘Tax’, and ‘Government’ all show up—and some are a little bit of a surprise. Those saying either positive or negative things about President Obama, for example, were also mentioning the word ‘Bush’ (presumably President George W. Bush) at a high rate. Trending terms are showing up here as well: ‘Binders’, ‘Big Bird’ and ‘Bayonets’ all get their time to shine in these sentimented posts.

The Big Picture

Over the course of the month, the debates spiked conversation on both candidates. Noticeable in the volume trend below, you can see the bump of conversation on the day of each debate, as well as a little bump for the VP debate:

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We’ve already looked at the top sentimented terms for each debate, but what about that mass of posts that is perhaps too subtle to be deemed negative or positive? Pulling back, we can sift through all posts mentioning either candidate to get the top terms over the time that the debates occurred. These are represented in the word clouds below, volume of the mention represented by word size:

Word Cloud

Because mentions of one man often coincide with mentions of the other, they appear largely in each other’s cloud. Beyond that, find all your favorite subjects: ‘Economy,’ ‘Libya,’ ‘Foreign Policy’—even ‘Big Bird’ shows up!

With the election fast approaching and extreme weather taking over the nation’s thoughts, there is plenty more to learn from social media. We can’t wait to see how conversation continues leading up to the election. Check back for more on public sentiment about this election and other current events—and remember to Vote!

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