Democratic debate by the numbers: Twitter, talk time and Google trends

By Palmer Gibbs


The remaining Democratic presidential candidates — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — met Nov. 14 for their second debate this election cycle, covering a wide range of topics spanning from Wall Street to foreign policy.

The two-hour debate allowed each of the three Democrats to speak for a significant amount of time — and much longer than any single candidate has during the Republican matchups. Data collected by InsideGov shows Clinton spoke for more than 38 minutes in total, about three times as long as the Republican who logged the most talk time during the last two debates.

Originally planned as a conversation focused on the economy, the moderators at CBS announced they would recalibrate their questions to address the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday night. Indeed, the entire first portion of the debate was dedicated to questions about ISIS and instability in the Middle East.

Given her foreign-policy heavy resume, it’s not surprising that Clinton jumped out to an early lead during that first segment. Before the initial commercial break, Clinton spoke for 11 minutes and 21 seconds. For a bit of perspective, InsideGov found that businessman Donald Trump spoke for a total of 11 minutes and 36 seconds during the entire fourth GOP debate.

After a fairly subdued and solemn start, Clinton and Sanders traded barbs on campaign finance at the beginning of the second hour, offering the most pointed confrontation between the two so far this year. Sanders claimed that because Clinton receives campaign contributions from people with ties to the financial sector, she would not be able to enact serious reform in that industry. When Clinton asserted that she has advocated for reform, Sanders simply responded, “Not good enough.”

When it comes to social media measurements, Clinton won the evening, collecting just shy of 6,000 more Twitter followers during the the debate. CBS partnered with Twitter to provide "real-time data and insights" during the debate, according to a press release about the setup.

This is in stark contrast to the first debate back in mid October, when Sanders clocked his fellow Democrats and gained 34,610 Twitter followers that night. According to data collected by InsideGov, that is by far the highest follower uptick any politician has seen during a debate.

While Sanders’ October boost was significant, Clinton’s much lower tally from Saturday is significant, too, if for a different reason. It indicates less overall social media interest during this debate, which isn’t too surprising considering it took place on a weekend night. Some have questioned how the Democratic Party set up this cycle’s primary debates — three of the six debates are scheduled for a Saturday or Sunday evening — and Saturday’s lower engagement numbers play into that narrative.

Twitter wasn’t a highlight for Sanders this go around, but he did fare well on Google Trends, which ranks how often each candidate’s name was searched on Google. Online interest in Sanders peaked in the middle of the debate, right around when he and Clinton had their dust up on bank reform.

Although there was no decisive winner in Saturday night’s Democratic debate, a collective look at the data makes one thing clear: Things don’t look good for O’Malley. The guitar-toting former governor comes in last on all of the metrics InsideGov collected. After another showing that failed to kick-start wider interest in his campaign, O’Malley’s window of opportunity seems to be closing for this cycle.

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