Sentiment Spotlight: Analyzing the #DemDebate

By: Dheepan Ramanan

October 20, 2015

Sentiment Analysis
Voice of the Customer

Twitter hasn’t changed politics; it’s brought the process back to its source. The term originates from the Greek word “polis,” meaning a body of citizens. When Athenian philosopher Aristotle famously wrote, “All men are political animals,” there was no way he could have imagined the omnipresent Twittersphere of today. However, he would have likely admired the open forum of political dialogue Twitter provides.

The media and politicians have taken note, and now pay attention to the social media reaction to important events. But what’s missing is a real understanding of this data. Social analysis must move beyond counting likes and retweets to deeper analytics that use sentiment and sophisticated topic analysis. Last week, Clarabridge analyzed the Democratic Primary Debate to find the nuance in the noise.

Clinton and Sanders: Face-off

Clinton and Sanders Overall Sentiment

Overall: Overall, Bernie Sanders had a higher sentiment score than Hillary Clinton. Although this was close (.03 to -.02), what separates these candidates is the difference in polarization. Sanders had 70% of comments about him scoring as neutral, whereas Clinton had only 59% of comments scored as neutral. This indicates that Clinton remains a more divisive candidate, perhaps because she is seen as the likely nominee and has a longer tenure in politics. The people that do like her express this more strongly, as 20% of Clinton’s comments were positive.

Foreign Policy: Foreign policy was a major strength of Clinton’s. She scored .43 points higher on sentiment, and had 38% more tweets on the issue than the other candidates. However, foreign policy overall is a weakness for Democrats.

Student Loan Debt: Student loans and college affordability is a winning issue for Sanders. His forcefully pitched plan for free public college resonated with Twitter users, prompting 98% more comments and .3 points higher sentiment than Clinton, who has also made affordable higher education a pillar of her campaign. The focus on this issue could be a reflection of the younger demographic commonly found on social media, many of whom are struggling with post-college debt.

Black Lives Matter: Sanders’ forceful statement on Black Lives Matter earned more positive sentiment and many more mentions (58% increase) compared to Clinton.

Clinton’s Weaknesses: Benghazi and the email scandal are still big weaknesses for Clinton. These topics were both extremely negative, registering a -.5 sentiment score. Time will tell if these stories will continue to plague the Clinton campaign, especially after Sanders’ dismissal of these issues.


Republican Comparison

Republicans vs Democrats: Key Issues

Comparing the topics mentioned during this debate to the prior Republican debates, there are massive differences in sentiment for Democrats and Republicans.

Women’s Rights: Women’s rights is a huge issue, and the volume of conversation on this topic shows how important this could be come election time. Democrats have a large advantage in this issue, with over a point higher in sentiment.

Gun Control, Immigration, & Climate Change: Democrats hold the sentiment lead for issues on gun control, immigration, and climate change. Immigration in particular may prove to be very important during the election, as Republicans may alienate many Americans with their divisive rhetoric.

Healthcare & the Economy: Healthcare and economic issues are nearly even, and Democrats are slightly less bullish on their election chances.

Foreign Policy: Where Republicans are more trusted is on their strong stance on foreign policy. The more aggressive tone from Republican candidates created a more positive reception, as the average Republican candidate scored .32 points higher on sentiment on this issue.

The presidential election is still more than a year away, giving the campaign landscape plenty of time to change. However, pundits and campaign managers will be wise to analyze social media data throughout election season if they want to know how the “body of citizens” thinks and feels about the issues and the candidates.

Photos included in artwork by Jstone and Juli Hansen of

Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.