October 8, 2016

Tracking Twitter’s Reaction to the Presidential Debates

Jack Beckwith + Nick Sorscher

Tonight marks the third presidential debate, in which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are set to square off one final time before Election Day. The debate comes on the heels of more Trump-fueled controversy, as eight women have accused the Republican nominee of sexual harassment in the last ten days. Hillary, meanwhile, has been fighting her own battles over a deluge of personal emails exchanged by campaign staffers and made public by WikiLeaks. With three weeks remaining until ballots are cast, it's a race to see who can bleed the least.

Starting at 8:15 PM EST, we’ll be updating this page as Twitter reacts to the presidential debate in real-time. Every five minutes, we’ll take in a sample of thousands of tweets about the candidates from regular Twitter users and scoring them with a “sentiment analyzer." If a high proportion of the words in a tweet carry a positive meaning, the tweet will be scored more positively; if more of the words are negative, the tweet will be scored more negatively. Each tweet will receive a score from -1 (most negative) to +1 (most positive). By averaging the sentiment of tweets across each five minute interval, we can track how opinion on Twitter is evolving over time.

UPDATE: The final presidential debate has ended. We've preserved the results of the live tracker below.

Sentiment In Debate 3
Sentiment In Debate 3 Mobile

Results from Previous Debates

We used the same process to track sentiment on Twitter during the first and second presidential debates. After each debate finished, we dug a bit deeper into how spikes (and dips) in Twitter sentiment corresponded to what was being said on the debate stage. In the graphics below, we've provided annotated versions of the results from our live feed. Here's a recap of what we saw during the town hall debate on Sunday, October 9.

Sentiment In Debate 2
Sentiment In Debate 2 Mobile

We'll chalk the second debate up as a minor victory for Clinton, though both candidates suffered declining sentiment on Twitter over the course of the debate. It's interesting that both Clinton's and Trump's highest points coincided with discussion of the lewd tape that garnered so much coverage in the 48 hours leading up to the second debate. Trump received the most negative feedback on Twitter during his response to a question about Syria, in which he broke with running mate Mike Pence and dismissed the possibility of using military force to combat the Assad regime.

And finally, a look at how the sentiment on Twitter evolved over the course of the first debate on September 26.

Sentiment In Debate 1
Sentiment In Debate 1 Mobile

In the hour preceding the debate’s start, tweets containing Trump’s name generally carried a more positive sentiment than those containing only Clinton’s. As soon as the debate kicked off, however, Trump’s sentiment began to decline. It reached its lowest point around 9:50PM EST, when Trump was in the midst of discussing racial tension in America. Sentiment in tweets mentioning Clinton, meanwhile, surged in the second half of the debate as she hit Trump on birtherism and his temperament. The pundits were right about this one — Clinton was the clear victor according to Twitter’s reaction.