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by Graham Cookson
in Big Data , Hadoop
on 03 August 2015

US Republican Presidential debates run-up

Back in March (2015), we were asked by some media outlets to monitor the social reaction to the leaders’ debates in the run up to the UK General Election. The aim was to gauge public perception and see how the sentiment and volume of chatter on social media reflected in the final results.

Interestingly, while the majority of media outlets were predicting that the UK would be run by another coalition government, the data we gathered showed a different story, with the Conservative party generally showing the greater performance on social media and the previously little-known Scottish party, SNP, boasting a surge in social interaction.

And our results were reflected in the final outcome of the votes – the Conservative party winning a high majority (no need for a coalition government) and the SNP taking a huge percentage of seats from all the major parties across Scotland. 

Tapping into America

On the back of our success with the UK General Election, Digital Contact was asked by some of our partners to monitor the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election.

So we have started monitoring the real-time data around the US Presidential Candidacy race – currently covering 43 (declared and expected) candidates from all the major parties and independents running for election.

Needless to say we are very excited to be covering this Presidential Election in particular, as it looks like it’s going to be possibly one the most exciting political races America has seen in decades.

As part of this exercise we will be sharing the high-level insights we have collected on our blog and via our other social media channels.

The (political) Apprentice

Things especially heated up in the Digital Contact office when Donald Trump announced he would be running for office.

Trump isn’t the first high-profile, non-political candidate to run for office and we’re sure he won’t be the last – but the outspoken business magnate has had his finger on the US political pulse for a few years now – challenging President Obama to show his passport and prove he was a ‘real American’.

Often celebrity candidates are seen as a bit of a 'joke' – someone it’s fun to watch play at politics, but you wouldn’t seriously consider voting for and that’s what a few of us in the office thought at the time Trump threw his hat into the ring.

But as soon as Trump entered the race our CEO had a hunch, based on previous datasets and trends we had seen, and said: “I bet within a month, Donald Trump will be leading the polls for the Republican party leadership…”

Some people took that bet and, low and behold, within a month Trump is indeed ahead of his party rivals and a few of us have extra dish-washing duties to perform at work. 

Chart shows volume of social engagement between top US politicians on social media

Getting ready to debate

On August 6, 2015 Fox News will be broadcasting the first* in a series of live TV debates that will see the Republican Party candidates discussing/arguing their policies and views.

[*Note: There was a live show on August 3, 2015, where candidates appeared separately and answered questions. Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee declined invitation]

Because the party has so many candidates running for leadership (17 in total), the debates have had to be split into two shows, one prime-time 9pm EST show featuring the top ten polled candidates and an earlier 5pm EST show featuring the lower polled seven candidates.

To decide on the ‘top ten’ candidates, Fox News took an average of the five most recent national polls conducted by non-biased, nationally recognised organisations, using standard methodological techniques. The five polls included in the average were conducted by the following organizations: Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University.

The candidates invited to be on stage for 9pm EST debate will be: Donald Trump (23.4%), Jeb Bush (12.0%), Scott Walker (10.2%), Mike Huckabee (6.6%), Ben Carson (5.8%), Ted Cruz (5.4%), Marco Rubio (5.4%), Rand Paul (4.8%), Chris Christie (3.4%) and John Kasich (3.2%).

The candidates invited to be on stage for the 5pm EST debate are: Rick Perry (1.8%), Rick Santorum (1.4%), Bobby Jindal (1.4%), Carly Fiorina (1.3%), Lindsey Graham (0.7%), George Pataki (0.6%) and Jim Gilmore (0.2%).

Will Trump maintain his lead?

Digital Contact will be monitoring the debates closely and we hope to find some interesting results.

Firstly, while Trump has been performing incredibly well so far, he is yet to enter into a formal political debate such as this. His main opponents are seasoned politicians and while they may not have entered into Presidential debates, Trump is directly facing five State Governors and three Senators; Trump and Ben Carson are the only two unexperienced political figures entering the prime-time debate.

It’s also been highlighted by some opponents and media outlets that Donald Trump has been vague on some of his policies and it could be that these live debates will open Trump up to some intense political probing. 

People love a celebrity

On the flipside, recent polls suggest that Trump resonates well with the Republican voters because he’s not a politician.

According to a CNN poll, 44% of Republicans care most about the economy. As a highly successful business man, many see Trump as the best candidate to tackle this issue and bring a rise in employment to the country. (Though historically a republican government yields a lower return on economic growth).

Trump’s celebrity status is also something that many see as a favourable quality. Not only has Donald Trump put his name on buildings, he has also graced television screens for years and the public has a strong perception of who the man is.

This is something that many politicians lack – public awareness. It’s the same for every democratic country in the world - the majority of voters are not politically minded, until it comes to polling season; they don’t care who the candidates are until its decision time.

But Donald Trump one of the most well-known businessmen in America and in the same poll, CNN found that only 1% of Americans had never heard of him.

That’s not to say that everyone in America loves him, but having a recognised name goes a long way to winning votes. 

Minor vs. major

One final topic of interest we hope to see from the live debates is how well the ‘minor’ candidates perform in the earlier 5pm debate.

As mentioned, it’s debates such as these where candidates can really talk about their policies and grill opponents. While recent polls have seen seven Republicans separated from their rivals, it will be interesting to see the public reaction and how well they can express their views.


For now, everything is speculation until the show airs, but it will be very interesting to see who comes out on top at the end of the first debate and whether that person will be able to maintain his or her status throughout the remaining debates.

Whatever the end result, Digital Contact will be monitoring and freely publishing some of the high-level statistics and datasets - derived from our real-time enterprise data engine (which covers many more aspects).

[Please note: Digital Contact is in no way directly affiliated with any political party or candidate]

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