Study Shows Social Media Has Different Take on First Presidential Debate Than Mainstream Media

President Obama floundered – or got flummoxed – in his first debate with GOP rival Mitt Romney, according to most initial polls and media reports.

But the assessment of the debate on social media was less critical of the president, according to an October 5 analysis by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism.

This is probably a good thing for President Obama because so-called independent voters tend to be more likely to be engaging in Twitter back-and-forths and scanning Facebook posts.

Independent voters, particularly younger ones, broke hard for Obama in 2008 in part because his campaign reached out to them through social media but, more importantly, because he offered an aspiring message.

That’s a difficult thing to recreate as a four-year record incumbent saddled with listless economy.

Four years ago, the mantra was “Change.” Now it’s “Forward.”

There’s a reason.

Given that, the Pew Center findings, on at least a few levels, should hearten the president’s re-election campaign.

The study examined 5.9 million opinions tweeted from the beginning of the debate through the next morning.

Favorable tweets ran 35 percent for President Obama and 22 percent for Romney.

Interestingly, demographers say 57 percent of Twitterers are women. Men are the majority on Facebook and other platforms.

The study offers a caveat to its Twitter findings:

“Not every tweet about the debate was an evaluation of candidate performance. Another 17 percent of the conversation involved people offering jokes with no clear opinion about either contender. A small component of the conversation – 9 percent – involved people sharing information or news. And 16 percent of the conversation talked about other things such as evaluating the moderator, Jim Lehrer, or people tweeting that they were watching the debate — or not watching.”  

However, removing the tweets not relating to the performance of the candidates showed 61 percent going toward President Obama and 39 percent for Romney.

On Facebook, the president edged Romney 40 percent to 36 percent. Pollsters would say that’s a statistical “dead heat.”

A USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism Los Angeles Times poll in August found that more than half of voters aged 18 to 29 log onto the Web for news.

Voters aged 18 through 49 were three times more likely to use Facebook as a daily news source and twice as likely to use blogs than voters over 49 years old. That same age group tends to search for news on a smartphone or tablet.

The poll found 20 percent of 18-to-49 year olds informing themselves through mobile devices, compared to just 3 percent of voters over 49.

Blogs were not nearly as positive in their assessment of President Obama’s performance in the Pew Center analysis. Forty-five percent favored Romney and 12 percent gave thumbs up to the president.

“Only in blogs, which tended to offer more of a summary of the event than a moment-to-moment reaction, did the sentiment resemble that of instant polls or press analysis,” the Pew Center says.

“Except for blogs, these findings about social media offer a contrast to what people generally saw in the immediate aftermath of the debate in polls or in mainstream media, Pew concludes.


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