Skip to Content

College of Information and Communications

  • Mayor Pete

UofSC analysis: Buttigieg leads in social media sentiment

Posted May 13, 2019
By Rebekah Friedman,, 803-576-7270

Pete Buttigieg enjoys the largest positive sentiment on social media — both in South Carolina and the nation among the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a new analysis by the Social Media Insights Lab at the University of South Carolina.

The lab, which is part of the College of Information and Communications, used powerful analytics software to review more than 23 million publicly available mentions on social media, including 97,000 from South Carolina, made between March 1 and May 6 on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms.

The study found that 26 percent of South Carolina posts mentioning Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, are positive, a larger percentage than any other candidate. Clustered behind Buttigieg in positive social media sentiment in the Palmetto State are Cory Booker with 20 percent, Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris with 18 percent, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders with 15 percent, and Elizabeth Warren at 13 percent.

What constitutes a positive mention? Researchers categorized as positive posts about Buttigieg’s military service, Christian faith, intelligence, his relationship with his husband as well as general expressions of support for the 37-year-old presidential hopeful. News mentions and posts expressing no preference for specific candidates were categorized as neutral.

“After Pete Buttigieg’s CNN Town Hall in March, we saw a spike in activity in South Carolina,” Insights Lab manager Kaitlyn Park says. “Users started asking ‘who is this guy?,’ but since then, the comments have had more substance. In traditionally conservative South Carolina, he actually has a higher positive sentiment than in the nation.”

An Insights Lab analysis of comments across the U.S. shows that Buttigieg also leads the field with 23 percent positive sentiment, followed by O’Rourke with 17 percent, Harris and Booker with 16 percent and then Biden, Warren and Sanders with 14 percent.

“Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders may be leading in the polls, but our report offers an analysis of what real people are saying in real time,” says Randy Covington, a faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications who oversees the Insights Lab. “While political polls focus on potential voters and often are influenced by name recognition, we are measuring something more organic, and our analysis shows a lot of people in South Carolina like what Pete Buttigieg is saying.”

Each of the candidates received a significant percentage of negative comments, both in South Carolina and nationally. Buttigieg, though, was the only candidate with more positive than negative mentions in South Carolina. Park says this doesn’t necessarily imply he is more popular than his fellow candidates.

“Given the nature of the internet and the fact that South Carolina is traditionally Republican, it makes sense that we are seeing negative reactions to these Democratic hopefuls on social media,” Park says. “But digital conversations are complex. A negative comment can be a fleeting reaction or it could come from a user who supports the opposing party.”

And while Buttigieg did carry the highest percentage of positive sentiment, more established or well-known candidates have a greater total volume of posts. Biden had the most mentions in South Carolina with 26,245, followed by Sanders with 15,473, Harris with 14,873, O’Rourke with 13,764, Buttigieg with 12,521 and Warren with 9,799. Booker had the fewest with 4,452.

Candidates saw spikes in post volume during campaign visits to South Carolina and high-visibility activities, including social media endorsements of the #AllOutMay1 Teacher Walk Out in South Carolina and Harris’ questioning of Attorney General William Barr during a May 1 Senate hearing.

The gender of those commenting both in South Carolina and nationally skews male. For example, 58 percent of the comments about Buttigieg in the state came from men. Nationally, 54 percent of the comments about him came from men. The candidate with the most even distribution of comments both here and nationally was Kamala Harris, who has a 51 male/49 female ratio in South Carolina and a 50/50 ratio nationally.


“It’s still too early to say who is or isn’t a frontrunner, and that’s really not our goal,” says Tom Reichert, dean of the College of Information and Communications. “Instead, we’re hoping the insights we get from the online data will give us a more nuanced picture of how these candidates are resonating in a critical early-primary state.”

More than 20 Democrats are seeking the party’s presidential nomination. The Insights Lab has focused on the frontrunners, defined as candidates who score two percent or greater in the RealClear Politics aggregate of national polls. 

This study is part of a series of South Carolina Insights, reports that will analyze social media conversations on relevant topics. 

About the Social Media Insights Lab

Housed in South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, the Social Media Insights Lab uses Crimson Hexagon software to generate, visualize and interpret data on everything from consumer sentiment to crisis response. Since its launch in January 2019, the lab has enhanced the university’s research efforts and raised its profile as a thought-leader in social media analytics.

View a full list of reports at and follow the lab on Twitter at @UofSCInsights

For media inquiries, contact Rebekah Friedman at or 803-576-7270.


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.