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College of Information and Communications

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Insights lab analyzes perception and social media reactions of the final presidential debate

Posted October 23, 2020


Students and University of South Carolina College of Information and Communications staff were hard at work in the lab analyzing perception and social media reactions to President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the final presidential debate. From the period before and after the Oct. 22 debate, the lab analyzed over 27,000 South Carolina social media posts.

In the hours leading into the debate, Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden was a major trending topic, but after the debate began, South Carolina social media conversations shifted to specific issues, policies and a few key sound bites from Biden and Trump.

"In previous debates and town hall events, the social conversation was more so about personality than policy," noted lab manager Kait Park. "The format of this debate allowed people to focus more on specifics of the candidates' plans and platforms and less on image or persona."

Analyzing the period from 8 p.m. Oct. 22 until 8 a.m. Oct. 23, the two presidential candidates were mentioned equally by South Carolinians on social media. In previous election events, Trump has been mentioned more in the Palmetto State.

Social media sentiment was also about the same for Trump and Biden before, during and after the debate. Trump was seen about 2-3 percent more positively and less negatively on social media in South Carolina than Biden.

In analyzing sentiment and reaction for each candidate, Biden's most negative reaction on South Carolina social media was related to his statements on the oil industry in America when he said he would "transition" away from the fossil fuel industry.

But one of the most discussed moments of the night was when Trump claimed he was the "least racist person in the room." The period during and after that statement created the most negative reaction on South Carolina social media for Trump.

"Based on the similarities in both total mentions and sentiment in South Carolina, it does not appear that a single moment shifted viewers' opinions," Park said. "If people on social media supported Donald Trump or Joe Biden before the debate, they likely felt the same afterward." 

The Social Media Insights Lab will continue to monitor the presidential and South Carolina senate race leading into Nov. 3. Stay tuned for more insights into the moments and messages that have South Carolina social media users talking. Earlier reports are available here.  


About the Social Media Insights Lab

The lab is part of the College of Information and Communications. It is used for teaching, academic research and public reports intended to help people better understand issues of the day.

The Insights Lab software, Brandwatch Consumer Research, formerly known as Crimson Hexagon, uses artificial intelligence to interpret data. View a full list of reports  and follow the lab on Twitter at @UofSCInsights

For media inquiries or to request graphic files, contact Rebekah Friedman at rebekahb@mailbox.sc.edu or 803-576-7270.

How is sentiment calculated?
The lab uses software, Brandwatch Consumer Research, formerly known as Crimson Hexagon. The software gauges the emotional tone of conversations using auto-sentiment artificial intelligence technology. This feature is useful for identifying patterns within large sets of social media data, but it should be noted that auto-sentiment has its limits. For example, it does not always recognize sarcasm, nor does it account for posts which may express more than one emotion.


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