After Monday’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ended, breathless pundits and partisans elbowed their way toward nearby video cameras to declare who they thought won and lost. But in many ways, the American public already knew.
Last night, a CNN/ORC Instapoll showed that 62 percent of voters thought Clinton won, while 27 percent thought Trump did — but the poll’s sample skewed more Democratic than the general electorate. Statistically questionable online polls from Drudge Report, Time, CNBC, and Breitbart all declared Trump the overwhelming victor. And a PPP poll split the difference, as 51 percent of its respondents said Clinton won and 40 percent selected Trump.
But now more than ever, it’s possible to analyze how voters reacted in real time thanks to social media and online search. Not content with simply watching the debate, tens of million of Americans turned to their “second screens” to discuss it on social media and search for information about the candidates.
According to data provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google, Trump attracted the most attention on social media — Clinton was the most searched candidate on Google — but he largely drew scorn, and the most viral moments were his stumbles and exaggerations.
Overall, 18.6 million Facebook users engaged with the debate through posts, comments, shares, and likes; debate-related Facebook Live videos drew 55 million views. The most discussed debate of the Republican and Democratic primaries, by contrast, engaged only 7.4 million Facebook users.
Twitter said it was the most tweeted debate ever, exceeding the 10.3 million messages sent during the first debate in the 2012 election.
The most discussed moment of the debate on both Facebook and Twitter was Trump’s claim that his “strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament,” a comment that prompted chortles from the debate audience and a wide smile from Clinton.
Thanks in part to an assist from Clinton’s social media team, the most retweeted post was a @realDonaldTrump tweet from 2012 that claimed global warming was a fake crisis “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” When Clinton referenced the statement in the debate, Trump replied, “I do not say that.”
Cornell University Professor Drew Margolin analyzed debate-related tweets and found that while most of the conversation surrounding both candidates was negative, Clinton came out ahead. In “strong contrast” to Clinton, Margolin said, “Trump received almost universally negative tweets.” Rather than promoting their candidate, Republicans tended to either attack Clinton or stay quiet.
And Clinton would probably be happy to hear that in addition to being the subject of the most Google searches, searches involving volunteering for the campaigns were 120 percent higher for her than for Trump.