And the winner is…Analyzing the GOP debate through social media

Last Wednesday, 11 Republicans took the stage to duke it out for political supremacy and win the hearts of their fellow Americans. If you are like me, you conveniently missed the debate but would still like to know how the competitors stacked up. There are plenty of reporters and politicians who have their own opinion on this matter, but I think the best way to analyze this colossal battle is through our beloved social media. So you might be wondering, how prevalent was the debate on social media? In the FIRST hour of this broadcast there were 775,000 references to the debate. Overall, there was nearly 2 million mentions of the debate and the candidates.

So out of these 2 million mentions, who stood out in the eyes of the Americans? Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump took home a little over 446,000 mentions during the broadcast of the debate. From a purely numerical standpoint, Trump should be crowned the debate champion. However, if I had to guess, I would say the Anti-Trump brigade represented a strong percentage of his mentions. Lets just take a look at a few of Trumps more memorable quotes:


“Hillary Clinton was the worst Secretary of State in the history of the United States. There’s never been a Secretary of State so bad as Hillary. The world blew up around us. We lost everything, including all relationships. There wasn’t one good thing that came out of that administration or her being Secretary of State.” 

As you can see, not only is Donald Trump a PR nightmare, but he has a masterful way of being politically incorrect on the worlds biggest stages. Clearly, mentions can be a very misleading popularity metric. According to Netbase, a social media analytics company, Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio received the biggest upswing in social media sentiment Wednesday night. Carly Fiorina, after engaging in a verbal jousting match with Donald Trump, gained the second largest boost in sentiment. So how much an effect did the second GOP debate have on the Republican polls?

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According to the latest CNN poll, Donald Trump remains the front runner with 24%. Although he still leads, polls show that the debate did in fact hurt Trump, bringing him down from 32% a month prior. Fiorina ranks second with 15%, up from just 3% in early September. After seeing this poll, I thought I knew the clear outcome of the debate. Fiorina and Trump had gone head-to-head resulting in a clear winner. That is until I began to see articles popping up featuring Bernie Sanders as the outright winner of the debate. But how can this be? At first, I did not understand how a Democratic candidate could win the Republican debate. As I read into this mysterious phenomenon, it began to make more and more sense.

Throughout the 3 hour debate, viewers became less and less engaged with the debate. In the final hour, mentions had fallen 20% to 630,000. However, Bernie Sanders was still able to connect with the voters. After the debate his posted this blurb on Facebook:

“The evening was really pretty sad. This country and our planet face enormous problems. And the Republican candidates barely touched upon them tonight. And when they did, they were dead wrong on virtually every position they took,”

Sander’s post on his Facebook page received over 200,000 likes and 48,000 shares. Sander’s Facebook assessment of the debate was the favorite post of the night, outshining any of the GOP candidates. During the August 6th debate, Sanders had the most retweeted post of the night. He also engaged social media users last Wednesday by live-tweeting the Republican debate, capitalizing on significant debate moments.

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What can we take away from Bernie Sander’s unlikely presence in the GOP debate? First is the importance of Real time marketing. While some democratic candidates statically observed the debate, Sanders used the event to market his campaign. My second take away is the saying, “There is no such thing as bad publicity” is utterly wrong. While Donald Trump might be proud of his strong social media presence on Wednesday, he simultaneously lost 8% of his lead. Social media is a great tool to help politicians connect with the younger generation, but mistakes are costly when 4 million people meticulously follow you. I am interested to see how the presidential candidates will further use social media to connect with the voters. This free form of marketing is crucially important to capturing the millions of digitally competent adults.


  1. Hunter, like you, I missed the debate. I wasn’t looking for a recap until this. I really enjoyed an analysis of what happened on Social Media during the debate and felt this was a great post to read after John Dentinger’s ‘Newsjacking’ post.

    Social Media was a huge game changer in 2008, but the playing field is level now. I wonder if, other than Bernie, any candidates will see a significant boost in polls and fundraising as a result of their social media strategy.

  2. Hunter — Thanks for posting this recap. It certainly is interesting to compare the Twitter data with the post-debate poll that CNN released. As you know I also wrote about Bernie’s use of Twitter, but I did not realize he had the most shared post on Facebook as well. Interesting use of both platforms–using Twitter to live tweet the event, and Facebook to post a summary of his reaction.

    Should be interesting to see how Trump and the rest of the GOP Candidates behave on social media during the upcoming Democratic debate in October. If they have been paying attention to Senator Sanders campaign, they will be busy! It will be interesting to see if another candidate will take the #DebateWith____ approach and make it their own. I am also curious to see how Bernie’s campaign makes us of it’s social media platforms during the debate without the benefit of Bernie sitting next to them to tweet himself. Thanks for posting!

  3. Nice post. I think we will continue to see interesting things throughout this primary cycle with social media.

  4. Great example of how social media has impacted politics and how important it is to leverage real-time marketing.

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