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Deeper insights into the Republican primary debates

Following on from our blog post last week, where we shared some of the insights we gleaned from the first live TV debate in the US Republican Primaries, we have decided to delve a bit deeper into some of our findings.

For those of you who haven't been following the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Elections, on Thursday August 6, 2015, the candidates from the US Republican Party went head-to-head in two live television debates – consisting of the top 10 ranking candidates and lower ranking seven candidates (there were too many in the running to feature on one show).

Digital Contact was asked by some of our partners to monitor the live debates and our big data analytics engine processed more than seven million social messages in real-time throughout the three hours (total) of live TV for the two debates.

Out of the two debates the prime-time (9pm EST) debate, featuring the top ten candidates, received the biggest reaction on social media by far; we processed more than 5.8 million social messages related to the debate and the candidates' comments in the two-hour live broadcast - more than four-times as many social messages than the earlier 5pm (EST) debate, which saw a little over 1.3 million social messages.

Word association

To help understand some of our results, we had a look at the words most associated with each candidate from the prime-time debate - it apparently being the most watched Primary debate in US history, with a 24 million-strong viewership, and receiving the highest amount of social media engagement.

We have displayed these results within word clouds (below), allowing you to see exactly which words the public were using when discussing the candidates. Images displayed in order of candidates' social ranking, according to the results from our big data analytics engine.

Click to see full-sized tag cloud images

While some of the terms closely associated with the candidates seem rather random, they do help to show the sentiment shared by many of the social media commenters who were following the debate and highlight reactions to certain comments made by the different Republicans.

The polls might have to change

It was noted in our previous blog post it appears that having a strong political background doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to politics, at least not from the public’s perspective – as the two candidates who dominated the two different debates both had a background in running multi-billion dollar businesses. The ‘lower ranking’ 5pm (EST) debate saw former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina leading the way on social media. And the winner for the second debate (aired at 9pm EST) came as no surprise – as business magnate and celebrity, Donald Trump, dominated social chatter.

Taking a look at the overall social performance from all candidates across both debates, it’s clear to see that the social media reaction to the debate could lead to a major shakeup in the polls.

Before the night’s events, Fox News created a chart ranking each candidate based on how well they had performed in previous polls. These results determined who would appear in the 9pm prime-time show and who would be the remaining seven to appear in the (arguably less-desirable) 5pm slot.

If the social media reaction results we processed be anything to go by then, should the next live TV debate require another show split, the line-up and standing positions for each show will be somewhat different.

The chart above shows the original polling score/percentage (in blue) each candidate received by Fox News to represent the candidates' time slot and the positions on the stage (the highest ranking candidate featured centre stage - with lower rankings on the other positions). The orange signifies the social performance, as found by our big data analytics engine - this result is also represented by the order the candidates' names appear (highest to lowest - from left to right).

In terms of ‘expectation’ (based on previous polls) vs. social performance Carly Fiorina out-performed all rivals, with a 428% increase in terms of social media popularity vs. original poll score. Her original polling score saw her ranked as number 14 out of the 17 total candidates. Going by her social score, she jumps ten places to be ranked number four out of 17.

Mike Huckabee performed the worst in expectation vs. social performance, with a score -49% lower than anticipated from his original poll scores. Donald Trump, who won overall on social media commentary had just a 13% increase over his original polling score expectations. But the candidate from the prime-time debate with the highest expectation vs. social performance increase was Ben Carson, who saw an 88% increase in social performance over his original polling score.

It's remarkable to see how the different comments made by the candidates caused different reactions from the public. Controversy is something that will always cause a spark on social media, as shown with Donald Trump. But sometimes, responding well to questions posed and making sound comments can see a surge in support on social media - as reflected by Carly Fiorina's performance on the night.

For now we'll have to wait and see just how well each candidate performed in the official polls and whether their scores on social media (according to our data) will reflect the final results.

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