Twitter conversations on abortion, economy rise after Clinton vs. Trump debate

This week's debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had a significant effect on shifting the U.S. election conversation on Twitter from scandals to policy issues.

But chatter about Clinton email scandal, Trump sex assault allegations drops off, Twitter analytics show

Wednesday's debate battle between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had a significant effect on shifting the U.S. election conversation on Twitter as well as perceptions of the two candidates. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

While the question of who won Wednesday's U.S. presidential debate might be a hotly contested one, there is one arena in which Republican candidate Donald Trump is the undisputed winner: Twitter.

At any given time, Trump, an avid Twitter user himself, gets 500 to 600 more mentions than his rival, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to James Rubec, a content strategist at the social media analytics firm Cision. Clinton receives one-third fewer mentions on Twitter than Trump.

However, that does not necessarily mean Trump has more support. Fifty per cent of Twitter conversations about Trump involve attacks against him, Rubec said.

(Rubec is careful to point out that when it comes to analyzing Twitter data, there are significant demographic limitations. For example, 67 per cent of Twitter users are white.) 

Shifting conversation

Rubec has looked at some long-term trends in Twitter conversations over the course of the U.S. election campaign. For example, the controversy over Clinton's private email server was the leading scandal that dominated election chatter on Twitter over the past six months, according to his data.

But in the past seven days, tweets about the sexual assault allegations against Trump have drowned out those about the email controversy and the Clinton revelations contained in the recent WikiLeaks releases. 

The scandals that have trailed Trump and Clinton in recent weeks seemed to recede into the background during and after the debate, at least on Twitter. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Rubec also delved into some Twitter data from Wednesday night's debate in Las Vegas. Here's what he found:

  • On debate night, 4,500 tweets made mention of Trump being "unfit" to be president compared to 360 describing Clinton as "unfit."
  • Among Twitter users who had tweeted favourably about Trump before the debate, 4,137 said he had lost their vote after the debate. In comparison, Clinton lost 558 users who had earlier expressed their support.
A graph showing the shift in candidate support among Twitter users who had expressed support for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton before the debate and revoked it after.

Rubec also discovered shifts in the election-related topics being tweeted about. Before the debate, half of the tweets that mentioned Clinton were about her email scandal or the WikiLeaks revelations.

A breakdown of Clinton-related tweets by topic prior to Wednesday's presidential debate.

But during and after the debate, interest in those controversies shrank significantly. Only around 20 per cent of tweets mentioning Clinton touched on those subjects after the debate. 

Trump's sexual assault scandal also garnered less interest after the debate, with mentions of it falling from 11 per cent to one per cent among those tweeting about Trump.

A breakdown of Clinton-related tweets by topic after the debate.

Both Trump and Clinton took strong stands on abortion during the debate, and that seems to have influenced the conversation online.

While abortion barely registered in tweets mentioning Trump before the debate, it shot up to 13 per cent during the debate and was the most-talked about topic after (with 21 per cent of Trump tweets referencing it).

A breakdown of Trump-related tweets by topic prior to Wednesday's presidential debate.

In Clinton-related tweets, mentions of abortion went from one per cent before the debate to 11 per cent after —  a 1,000 per cent increase.

"It hadn't been spoken about in the election for months and months," said Rubec. "It really was a resurgent topic."

A breakdown of Trump-related tweets by topic after the debate.

Other topics that waxed or waned during the debate include:

  • The economy, which went from 19 per cent to 27 per cent in Clinton tweets and from 20 per cent to 13 per cent in Trump tweets.
  • Allegations of infidelity against former U.S. president Bill Clinton, mentions of which increased from four per cent to 17 per cent among Trump tweets and from six to two per cent in Hillary Clinton tweets.
  • Immigration became a hotter topic in tweets mentioning Clinton, rising from three per cent to 11 per cent, but garnered less interest among those tweeting about Trump, falling from five per cent to three per cent.