With 12 candidates on the stage for last night’s Democratic debate, we wanted to know if, and how, the event would affect the visibility and performance of each individual. 

Would there be a breakout (or catastrophic) moment from one of the candidates on hot-button items like impeachment, Syria and Medicare for All? 

Would one of the leading candidates slip up and damage their chances? 

Or would one of the second-tier candidates seize their moment?

To get a sense of all of that, we compared each candidate’s Share of Voice in the hours during and after the debate against their (SOV) in the five days leading up to the debate (for more on the pre-debate SOV and how it compares to polling numbers, check out this post).

We also tracked real-time fluctuations in social media mentions for each candidate during the debate to find out how key points landed with the debate-watching public.

Share of Voice

Candidate              SOV During/Post- Debate       SOV Pre-Debate        Difference    
Bernie Sanders 26% 26% 0
Elizabeth Warren 16% 16% 0
Joe Biden 13% 13% 0
Andrew Yang 13% 12% +1
Kamala Harris 11% 11% 0
Pete Buttigieg 7% 7% 0
Beto O’Rourke 6% 6% 0
Tulsi Gabbard 3% 3% 0
Amy Klobuchar 2% 2% 0
Cory Booker 1% 1% 0
Julián Castro 1% 1% 0
Tom Steyer 1% 1% 0


As can be seen in the above chart, the debate did very little to affect each candidate’s SOV. A solid performance from Andrew Yang saw him gain marginally more attention than he did in the five days leading up to the debate, but it’s the kind of progress that is only measured in tenths of a percent.

That’s not to say that nothing happened, however – simply that the amount of conversation around each candidate seems baked in at this point. But check out how the conversation changes when we look at how often each candidate was directly mentioned online throughout the debate. 

(Note: We separated the candidates into a top and bottom six simply to make the charts easier to read. Be sure to pay attention to the left axis when making comparisons between charts.)

Top 6 Candidates by Mentions Throughout the Debate

Bottom 6 Candidates by Mentions Throughout the Debate

The largest spike in mentions for any candidate throughout the evening came when Sen. Warren defended her plans for Medicare for All and a wealth tax, and was asked how she would pay for it. Her response – or lack of one – drove a lot of online discussions.

Aside from Warren, Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris “enjoyed” the largest spikes in mentions of the night, for very different reasons. Gabbard’s biggest spike (around 6.15PM PT) came when she spoke about Syria – and drew heavy online criticism for her stance. Harris’ spike, meanwhile, came when she suggested banning President Trump from Twitter, with many of the responses criticizing her attempts to get Sen. Warren to commit to the idea as well.

Former VP Biden’s two most-talked-about moments throughout the night came when he criticized the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of Syria – a move that led to much criticism of his own foreign policy record – and his response on abortion near the end of the debate, which was received more positively.

Andrew Yang, ever the surprise package, led the way in actually getting his ideas discussed: his biggest spike of the evening came thanks to a rash of comments taking on the merits of his comments about automation and the need for a Universal Basic Income.

Bernie Sanders – making his return to the campaign trail on the night – also enjoyed a strong night in terms of mentions, helped by a late spike when it emerged that he is likely to secure the endorsements of Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.

Pete Buttigieg enjoyed the strongest performance of the bottom six candidates on the night, with a strong response to his comments on Syria. Elsewhere, Amy Klobuchar struggled to gain traction with the online commentariat, despite having a strong performance according to many pundits. And, on his debut, Tom Steyer’s performance seems to have gone unremarked by most, underlining the size of the task he is facing in the campaign in general.  


On the whole, it doesn’t seem that last night’s debate will change the dynamics around this race to any great extent. With so many candidates on the stage, it was always going to be difficult for any individual to have a standout performance, or to dominate the conversation – a fact that seems to have been borne out by the spikes in attention and commentary around each candidate as the night wore on.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from this debate is the extent to which Share of Voice seems to be baked in, with the candidates who are leading in the polls enjoying the most significant share of attention. This metric will make for interesting viewing in the weeks ahead as some candidates drop out, endorsements continue to roll in and the first wave of primaries draws ever closer.

Want more data-driven insights while you wait for next month’s presidential debate? Check out our data-driven analysis of the new partnership between the NFL and Reddit, or read our Story of a Hashtag blog post to learn more about the rise of #MoscowMitch.