Presidential Debates 2012: How Closely Does Social Sentiment Match the Polls?

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Last night’s debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was a narrow win for the incumbent president, according to a CNN/ORC International poll of registered voters who had watched the broadcast. Portent CEO Ian Lurie, who has been tracking social media data on the Obama and Romney campaigns since April, said he saw similar results on Facebook.

Lurie deliberately chose Facebook for this debate after finding too much strong language on Twitter surrounding the first debate on October 3. That night, said Lurie, “Twitter seemed to be the place where people went to see who could out-cuss the other.”  The f-word was among the top five most commonly-used words used in Tweets about both candidates.

For the second debate on October 16, Lurie pulled a few thousand comments from each candidate’s Facebook page to see what the viewers had to say. In general, “The economic discussions got the most buzz,” he said.

But viewers showed much stronger feelings when Romney alleged that it had taken the President 14 days to admit to the public that the attack in Benghazi, Libya was an act of terror, even more so toward Obama’s impassioned response.

“The Obama campaign is a classic big brand,” Lurie explained. With a wider audience, the President has to watch his words carefully. The second debate, noted Lurie, was “one of the first times he let things hang out a little bit.” The President’s candid remarks earned strong, positive responses from his Facebook fans.

The Romney campaign, in contrast, is a little more “scrappy,” said Lurie. “They’re more willing to take risks.” The challenge for Romney, he said, “is expanding beyond his existing audience.”

On social media sites, noted Lurie, the rate at which a candidate acquires new followers accelerates right after the candidate wins a debate. Last night, Obama saw an increase in the number of Facebook fans (in the chart above, marked in black), which correlates to the growth of Romney’s page after his successful debate on October 3.

Overall, Romney received between 75 and 85 percent as many positive comments as Obama, which means that as far as the Facebook community is concerned, Obama won the debate.

CNN’s traditional poll revealed that 46 percent of voters favored Obama’s performance, compared to the 39 percent who favored Romney, with a 4-to-5-percent margin of error.

“In other words, Gov. Romney only got eighty to eighty-five percent of President Obama’s ‘He won’ votes,” said Lurie in an email. “So there’s a lot of overlap in the polling victory margin and the sentiment margin…the correlation between narrow victory margins and narrow sentiment margins seems pretty strong.”

Chart courtesy of Ian Lurie. Stock Image by Rafal Olechowski via Shutterstock.

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