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Online Trends

Published December 9th 2020

US Election 2020 Unpicked: How Did Speeches Differ From Social?

The Brandwatch React team analyze campaign speeches alongside social posts and news articles to find out how discussion around the big issues differed throughout the race.

The Brandwatch React team has a very exciting new feature to play with.

Brandwatch’s Data Upload API allows users to upload their own data and compare it alongside the data they’d usually see in the platform, like social media posts, forum entries, and news articles. The data you’d upload would usually be things like feedback surveys, customer support conversations, or product reviews, but you can upload any text-based data you can think of.

To explore the new possibilities, the React team decided to deep dive into language around the US Election.

We uploaded text files from Trump and Biden campaign speeches (made between January and October 2020) to Consumer Research. We were then able to filter and categorize the speech data alongside mentions from the candidates’ own official social accounts, general social media posts from the public, and news mentions.

The team were able to found out:

  • In speeches, the economy was the most dominant issue for both Biden and Trump
  • On their social media channels, Covid-19 was the issue the candidates talked about most
  • Both candidates pivoted their messaging in the last leg of the race

Behind the scenes: The issues

We decided to look at the data through the lens of big issues the US is facing.

To do this, we used Brandwatch’s Custom Classifiers, which are powered by machine learning, to run a quick text analysis. Using a simple drag and drop tool we were able to train a classifier to recognize mentions from speeches, social media mentions, and news articles that fell within a selection of different ‘themes’ which we’ve called ‘election issues’.

This machine learning approach is much better suited to differentiating between such nuanced types of language than trying to use keyword-based rules. For example, we were able to train the classifier to understand the difference between attacking an opponent’s policies and more personal attacks.

We had the data. We had the categories. It was time to get analyzing.

Below, you’ll see how mentions of issues are broken out as a percentage of all the issue-related conversation within a particular source.

Comparing the data by source

Let’s start with Biden.

Looking at the time dedicated to issues in his speeches, we found that Joe Biden prioritized discussing the economy (29%), Covid-19 (22%), and healthcare (16%).

On his owned social media, his priorities were slightly different. Mentions of coronavirus were most prominent (31%), followed by the economy (20%) and healthcare (13%).

But in social media posts from the public, there was a different order of importance. National security and foreign affairs was the most-discussed topic (16%), followed by Covid-19 (15%), the economy (13%), and law and order (13%).

The media also had different priorities when it came to discussing issues relating to Biden. While Covid-19 was the top issue (20%) and the economy came second (14%), race relations was the third most important topic (13%).

Next up is Trump.

In speeches over the 10 month period we studied, Trump’s issue-related conversation focused on national security (23%), the economy (22%), and law and order (13%).

Only 8% of Trump’s speech time was focused on Covid-19, but on his social accounts it was his second most important issue (appearing in 19% of his issue-related posts). Otherwise, his focus on social media was on the economy (27%) and national security and foreign affairs (14%).

Trump’s owned social media had the same top priorities as social media posts from the public and news articles around him. Issue-related mentions of Trump from the public on social media and in online news prioritized Covid-19 (30% and 23% respectively), national security and foreign affairs (15% and 13% respectively), and the economy (13% and 15% respectively.)

Education was a hot topic in the media, appearing as the fourth most mentioned topic (11%). This was not the case in any of the other sources.

How did focus on issues change over time?

We noted that the election issues which took priority in speeches changed during the course of the year, as Trump and Biden honed in on their respective key messages.

We split our speech data into two parts: January to July and August to October. This meant we could analyze how much speech time the candidates dedicated to different issues early in the race compared to the later stages.

Trump only discussed coronavirus slightly more during his speeches between August and October compared to January to July. The increase was mainly to do with his Covid-19 diagnosis in early October.

Instead, the real changes in his speech time allocation were around national security and foreign affairs and law and order, which featured far more prominently in speeches towards the end of the race.

Meanwhile, immigration and the economy were given comparatively less speech time in the latter part of the race.

In comparison, Biden increased his emphasis on the economy during his speeches in August to October compared to January to July.


But, the percentage of speech time Biden dedicated to discussing Covid-19 and healthcare decreased as he focused on economic issues.

Give it a go

Brandwatch’s Data Upload API gives users the ability to view all the relevant data in one place, and you can try it for yourself.

Book a meeting to chat to an expert to find out more.

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