WASHINGTON—Once again, eWEEK worked with a group of big data analysis companies to track viewer sentiment and engagement during the most recent Republican presidential candidates’ debate televised on Oct. 28.
This time, however, the analysts cast a much wider net to gather data that highlighted trends that were hinted at before, but not fully confirmed by the available data. This time the data came from Twitter, as it has in the past, as well as from Facebook and Instagram.
What made the data analysis more interesting than the first time was changes in the overall field and relative positions of the candidates in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
One candidate, as we predicted in our previous analysis, dropped out of the race. In addition, new candidates came to the fore, while some of the major candidates appear to be releasing their hold on the top spot as others rise to the top, if only temporarily.
But political events don’t play out in a vacuum, and on the night of the Republican debate, potential voter sentiment was also impacted by a televised speech from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders as well as by the second game of the Major League Baseball World Series.
Sanders upset the calm analysis of political data from the Republican debate with his speech at George Mason University in which he advocated the legalization of marijuana. As you might expect, Sanders’ social media traffic was off the charts.
With that context in mind, we went back to the National Press Club with the LUX2016 data analysis tool that we’ve used in the previous Republican and Democratic debates.
This time however, we were able to look at presumed gender and party affiliations. As in previous debates, we looked at social media traffic regarding all of the candidates seeking the presidential nomination on their respective party ballots, simultaneously.
In addition to looking at the real-time data provided by LUX2016, we also looked at data from social media monitoring company Postano. This let us track results over time, especially in terms of the candidates’ positions on a variety of topics, but which also might link to other issues through associated hashtags.
Another related topic we investigated came from Web page performance data tracked by AppDynamics, which allowed us to observe the changes that the candidates made to their webpages in anticipation of the debates. Meanwhile, the folks at Spredfast, a social media strategy company, gave us the social media totals for the night.
The analysis revealed that despite the pronouncements from the pundits, Texas Senator Ted Cruz had the best night for the Republicans.
Big Data Analysis of Debate Shows Ted Cruz Grabbed Viewers’ Attention
His voter engagement, which we think is directly related to social media engagement, was far above any of the other candidates. This held true when looking at his real time results on LUX2016 and his overall results using Spredfast.
Notably, the best reactions for these candidates came when they were attacking the media in the form of the debate organizers at CNBC. Apparently the viewers and the candidates objected to deep, in depth, probing questions such as “What are the three top apps on your phone?” Or about questions regarding the candidates’ fantasy football picks.
As was the case in previous debates, we found that a couple of the candidates were experiencing such low levels of voter engagement that they might want to think about folding their tents and looking for more rewarding pastimes.
This became apparent during the previous GOP debate when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker generated virtually no engagement just days after the second Republican debate. We saw similar low levels of engagement with Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee and former Virginia Senator James Webb right before they withdrew. This time we observed two more candidates with very low levels of voter engagement.
While there are several GOP candidates who aren’t doing well, two on the main stage that are seeing little voter engagement were former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. We were surprised to see so little interest in Christie, but despite his impassioned responses to questions, voter reaction was almost flat.
However, three of the candidates that haven’t polled well recently, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Lindsay Graham, exhibited moments of strength that may propel them to better polling results in the next few days if they can keep their voter engagement going.
Also surprising was the relatively weak performance by three of the prominent candidates, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush. They maintained a constant level of voter engagement, but all fell behind Cruz and at least most of the time, Marco Rubio. These levels of voter interest could eventually translate into problems for the candidates in terms of fundraising and overall visibility.
Of course the candidates’ social media engagement in the debates doesn’t necessarily predict how they might do in the general election, but they’re a very good measure of potential voter sentiment in real time.
Candidates that are able to hold onto that sentiment and turn it into long term support in may be able to move up in the polls and then perhaps gain support in the primary and from political donors. It’s still a full year before the election and the national conventions are nine months away, but already we may be able to see how the final battles will shape up.