first presidential debate  vice-presidential debate  us election 2016  trump  clinton

#Debates2016 - law enforcement, style over substance and Alec Baldwin

Some said not to bother with the popcorn, but even if the first presidential #DebateNight was an allegedly predictable snoozefest, the race is gearing up for a home run in November. To be fair, the #USPresidentialDebate was heavily marinated in traditional sticks and stones. Though slung from both sides, the end result seems to contrast first time nominee Donald Trump as under prepared with the more politically experienced Hillary Clinton - the latter of whom emerged the “winner”. A week later, the #VPDebate conversation looks to have turned the tables. Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, put pressure on Trump’s most controversial utterances immediately. In the court of public digital opinion, however, it was Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence who kept his cool under pressure. Here, we take a look at more than 14K social mentions around these discussions so far.

The first presidential debate

According to news commentary site Vox, unearthed by our news monitoring, Trump’s debate performance in the September 26 initial round has since reflected “dismal” poll results. Trump supporters tweeting their responses tended to highlight Clinton “cheating” during the debate with prompts. Conversely, Clinton-leaning tweets often referenced the “lies” Trump allegedly told (in relation to backing up the arguments he made). Big issues were what the nominees intended to do about taxation, how they planned to tackle climate change, and their thoughts on law enforcement in light of the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement and riots in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many a debate watcher pointed out that if Clinton did win, her best moments were in response to the race issue. On responding to moderator Lester Holt’s query about whether she thought police bias against blacks is a reality, Clinton most likely won fans by acknowledging that racism is not an issue specific to police officers, but has the most dire consequences. Trump, on the other hand, didn’t do himself any favours by limiting his comments to assertions of hardline “law and order” and his own business interests in Charlotte - without addressing the city’s divisive history.

Sentiment analysis indicates that many social media followers, regardless of their political preference, found Clinton at times to be so prepared that she sounded robotic. Some Twitter users who appeared to support Trump and the Republican campaign posted about him “taking the bait” and failing to address some issues. On average, 4 in 10 Trump-leaning social media users identified with being “deplorable” in their handle or bio. This was a potential Clinton weak spot not capitalised on, according to some commentators. Since saying that “to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it”, the Democrat nominee has expressed remorse for her remarks.

Deemed one of the most live-tweeted political events in recent years, some of the world’s premier media organisations took it upon themselves to fact check every word - including NPR (National Public Radio) and their 18-strong live team, NBC and influencers like Pew Research Associate Director Juliana Horowitz.

The vice-presidential debate

Perhaps media CEO Tim O’Reilly summed sentiment up most succinctly when he tweeted to his 1.97 million followers, “I think I’ll learn more from watching the VP debate than from the presidential #debates. We already know what we’re getting at the top.” The #VPDebate presented two running mates who were virtually unknown to the American public - Tim Kaine with Hillary Clinton, and Mike Pence for Donald Trump. Our social media monitoring revealed 55% negatively weighted sentiment on posts related to the vice-presidential debate. A heavy chunk of this could be attributed to attitudes toward Tim Kaine, who was not a crowd favourite. Criticised for being too on edge and constantly interrupting Pence, his performance inspired a slew of hashtags, such as #KaineInterrupts and #KaineWreck. Even Democrat leaning commentator Roland Martin advised a calmer communication strategy.

Despite some mishaps like referring to Trump rhetoric as “that Mexican thing”, Pence was said to have triumphed by most social media users for his higher composure levels. According to our data, 32% of social mentions referenced learning more from the vice-presidential debate than the first debate with the actual presidential candidates. Benjamin Wallace-Wells’ New Yorker article, “Everybody Won At The Vice-Presidential Election, Except Donald Trump” was the most shared opinion piece, while LA Weekly offered tri-panel insight into who took home the trophy.

The home run

The first presidential moderator, Lester Holt, primed viewers by reminding them that Clinton and Trump are the candidates they chose - a sentiment encapsulated in a tweet by parody favourite The Onion, quoting Holt. Tallying 600 likes and 259 retweets, it’s safe to say that pre-November 8 buzz promises to be a sign of the times.


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