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Analysis of Canadian tweets about the first Presidential debate

The second screen was alive during last night’s debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “second screen” is the computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone people use to share their thoughts and follow the online chatter during while simultaneously watching a televised event.

YouTube had a very cool feature attached to their live stream page which allowed users to dial-in their level of agreement to statements made during the debate. I assume that information was tallied and a chart will be available showing how the debaters did in the eyes of the public. As always, though, Twitter offered real-time insight into public sentiment of the debate.

Internationally, I tracked 5,256,386 tweets mentioning the debate during the 24 hour period of October 3. During the same period, 4,949,791 tweets mentioned Barack Obama and 4,011,795 mentioned Mitt Romney. I identified only 337,130 tweets which mentioned all three.

There were a few surprises in Canadian participation.

SURPRISE #1: More Canadians tweeted about the Presidential debate than our election day results (May 2, 2011)

Perhaps this isn’t entirely a surprise since, arguably, Canadians are more active on Twitter now than they were during our last federal election. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting Canada contributed 136,614 tweets to the discussion yesterday. By contrast, there were 114,000 relevant tweets issued by Canadians on election day, May 2, 2011.

Surprise #2: Canadians tweeted more about Mitt Romney than Barack Obama

The following chart identifies the number of tweets mentioning either the debate, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Canadians mentioned Romney more often than they did Obama. Despite that difference, it was unclear from the chatter if Canadians had identified a clear winner with a healthy number proclaiming each candidate the victor. Or, in Twitter parlance, each candidate either “kicked ass” or had his ass kicked.

Surprise #3: Women were more active in debate tweets than they are in general online political chatter

Interestingly, women were much more active in the discussion than on most online political chatter. It’s typical that political tweets skew male in a roughly 70/30 split. Women accounted for 41% of yesterday’s debate tweets.

Surprise #4: There were more re-tweets than regular tweets

It’s been my experience that major events involving a second screen largely involve a lot of original content (regular tweets) and less amplification. That’s generally because re-tweeting involves reading others’ tweets, which takes your attention away from the actual event you’re tweeting about. On the not surprising front, conversation (reflected in @replies) was typically low.

Another non-surprise was the level of participation. A significant majority (82%) of participants contributed only one tweet to the chatter. The more engaged accounted for 18% of the traffic.

I’ll have to make time to do a deeper dive into the Canadian chatter for a more credible sense of the issues and sentiment. However, the following appear to be the main issues tweeted by Canadians (in no particular order):

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • PBS (reflected in terms including PBS, Sesame Street and Big Bird)
  • Taxes
  • Candidates’ hair

Analysis performed using Marketwire/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

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About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of FullDuplex.ca, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.