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Published October 8th 2012

Tweeters Show a Tighter Debate Than Mainstream Media Views

Social media data shows a narrow Romney ‘victory’ in the first presidential debate.

Ronald Reagan famously turned a polling deficit into a surplus in 1980, John Kerry won all three by most estimations, yet ultimately fell short in November. The significance of the presidential debates has been considered, and even mythologised, since inception.

The famous, yet consistently debunked, philosophy of John F Kennedy’s coolness under the television studio lights and its wondrous electoral benefits in 1960 potentially helped to construct a new dimension in US persona politics.

The approval of the electorate and, in particular, voters in eight battleground states, was sought based on policy or personality, leanings or likeability Wednesday night. The opinions of the voters in response to the debate were posted on social media platforms.

Despite considerable clamour in the mainstream print media and broadcast channels lauding the performance of Romney for changing the shape of the election battle and rekindling the “horse race”, social media contributors were far from decisive.

Analysis of data mined by Brandwatch from the debate outset until the close of Thursday showed a tight, two-point advantage for the Republican within debate-centric conversation (see figure 1.).

Points made by individuals on social media in the aftermath about Wednesday’s bruising battle could offer more insight to voting patterns, especially when considering that the media could be forgiven for seeking to stimulate the argument.

Significantly, a number of the tweeters that awarded the contest to Mitt simultaneously opined that the election wouldn’t go the same way. Perhaps due to the electoral make-up of the US, and the higher importance of votes in a minority of states, or the realisation among social media users that debates could form a mere sideshow, tweeters appeared largely sceptical of the implication of events in Denver.

Crucially, the Republican candidate was also consistently accused of misrepresenting facts during the 90 minute period, of dominating mediator Jim Lehrer and appearing aggressive.

Many in traditional media have levelled the opposite against Obama, stressing that the Democrat did little to force Romney on to the defensive. With this approach proving unpopular with many tweeters, the Obama campaign could turn ears to social media before the next round.

Critique of the President over the same period was less diverse. Often berated by television commentary as “listless” and “rusty”, tweeters appeared to concur when negative of Obama, albeit often by simply noting that the Democrat was roundly drubbed.

Significantly, however, for the president, few social media users stated a desire to realign in November, providing further fuel for the debate deniers. A number of outspoken Obama voters were also seemingly dismayed at Mitt’s strong showing, but spoke of no desire to switch.

Polls taken in swing states over the next week will provide a more accurate indication of the effectiveness of the debate, especially considering that the President drew a 30,000-strong bloc of supporters to a Denver rally on Thursday and was subsequently boosted by the publication of the best employment figures since taking office.

The visibility of the event on Twitter, however, needs little argument. Figure 2. shows how debate season dominates anything in the electoral calendar to date in 2012.

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