The Atlanta debate was outstanding for Stacey Abrams, who lost her race for governor last year but was name-checked seemingly at every turn. But how did it go for the ten candidates on stage? Not well. As my left-honorable teammate Bradley Honan, who heads up Honan Research Strategies (HSG) and compiles the data we used for our late-night deck, hashtag: #debatefatigue.
So with a good night’s sleep, and the added benefit of some of the instant reaction, how did this go?
Ratings for the Democrats’ fifth presidential debate were sharply down despite it being historic for having an all-female moderating panel, and being politically interesting because Elizabeth Warren polls show that she’s cratering nationally behind a rejuvenated Bernie Sanders, while Buttigieg blew up her lead in Iowa.
It even underperformed on a night where DC politicos weren’t focused on the Washington Nationals run to their first World Series championship.
Aside from Andrew Yang, were they missing Beto? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Of course, not. Maybe it’s because viewers saw this already, have had their fill of Trump-bashing through impeachment, and decided that re-watching the second episode of Disney’s “The Mandalorian” was a better bet for their collective sanity because Baby Yoda waved his (pronoun check) hand and we’re all obsessed. Pre-order yours soon!
So, what happened on stage?
First, the moderators did their level best to give Warren a chance to get back into the race. According to the Washington Post, she got the most talking time at 13.4 minutes, followed by Buttigieg at 12.8 minutes, Sanders had 11.8 minutes, while Booker/Harris/Biden had slightly less.
Source: The Washington Post
Our Twitter data, however, tells a different story about Biden… and it’s not a good look. As in September and October, Biden was the target of the most tweets during the debate, this time with 151,4000. The next closest candidate was Sanders with 71,300 directed tweets, less than half. Biden was down from October by about 20,000 tweets while Sanders was up by just about the same.
Biggest loser? Warren. She was down by two-thirds. The slow slide into electoral irrelevance may have begun on Wednesday night.
Here’s the full picture from slide 11:
What you’ll also notice is this: only three out of the ten candidates actually drew more interest this time: Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg. Sanders was on his well-worn game, while Harris was more aggressive and sharper than in previous debates (more on that in a moment), and Buttigieg knew his was going to draw more direct hits, which happened late in the debate.
Tulsi Gabbard, who took aim at another rising candidate, fizzled. She actually drew fewer tweets than in October and Buttigieg was well-prepped for the attack with a stinging rebuttal that in the moment felt like a draw to me, which was a win for Mayor Pete. Harris jumped into the fray with the most retweeted post of the night from a candidate, with about 3,300 retweets and 14,400 likes:
By our count, Harris had three of the top five most retweeted posts and Sanders had two, dinging Biden for his support for the Iraq War (again) and supporting the 26th Amendment, which was ratified the year I was born, lowering the voting age to 18. The tweet got him about 1,800 retweets and 15,300 that evening, but not exactly setting Twitter on fire.
If the retweeting vibe was a little more casual that evening, the sentiment was strongly negative, even for Twitter. None of the candidates compiled by HSG came across with a net-positive sentiment. The one who came closest was minus 2x and he spoke the least.
Lest we feel too badly for Gabbard, and we shouldn’t, the retiring Hawaiian congresswoman was the most searched candidate on Google in 48 out of 50 states. Just conjecture but maybe folks are simply wondering who the Democrat self-hater was, let alone interest in supporting her. My hope is we can get the Ds vs. Rs on that data but Google doesn’t appear to be in the kind of mood to share its data lately. The mini-step for Buttigieg: he led in Iowa and neighboring Nebraska.
What this all means moving forward is anyone’s guess. Mine is that the next debate in December will be watched by even fewer Americans, who are gearing up for what actually matters to us: the holidays. When the political calendar turns in 2020 and, perhaps, the DNC finds a way to cull the field, maybe there will be more interest. In the meantime, I’m grateful that our fellow voters have better things to do than to slog through these slow-moving, humorless (except Bernie), must-miss TV debates.
To view the full breakdown of the debate, click here.