With Tom Steyer making his debate debut and Tulsi Gabbard (at least at the time of writing) set on making an appearance at October’s Democratic debate, no fewer than 12 candidates will be taking the stage in Ohio tonight. That’s a lot of candidates for the voting public to sort through, meaning that speaking time will be at a premium.

To get an initial read on how this may play out, we took a look at how current polling stacks up against the levels of online attention (SOV) each candidate has been able to command in the days leading up to the debate.


Bernie Sanders’ scheduled appearance at the debate will be his first full-scale piece of campaigning since he suffered a heart attack on October 1. SOV has spiked in recent days because of his efforts to distinguish his campaign from Warren’s – including an answer in an interview where he commented that Warren “has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I’m not.” Clips of that comment ensured that Sanders was a talking point on both the left and right in the days heading into the debate.

Unfortunately for Joe Biden, much of the coverage surrounding him in the past few days has been driven by commentary around the impeachment process. False allegations or not, the Biden name has most commonly appeared alongside “Ukraine” and “China” in recent headlines, meaning that very little focus has been placed on the former VP’s campaign.

Elizabeth Warren is performing steadily thanks to a strong performance in the Democrats’ LGBTQ forum last week, while she has also scored a lot of attention after ramping up of her criticism of Facebook and its political ad policies over the weekend.

The Pack

Andrew Yang has the highest gap between percent of voting intention and SOV, with a spread of 9 points. Having not made a major splash in the media in the past few days, we can likely view Yang’s strong SOV performance as an indication that his platform of universal basic income has attracted a lot of attention from a younger, extremely online fanbase. (We’ve seen this fanbase come to life during the last few debates). 

Kamala Harris, meanwhile, enjoyed a pre-debate SOV spike after exchanging snarky tweets with Donald Trump Jr. late last week. Whether she can bring that form to the debate – and convert it to improved polling numbers – remains to be seen.

Elsewhere, it’s hard to escape the sense that the strongest candidates are swallowing up most of the attention of political watchers across the country. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke both have pre-debate SOV levels that are marginally higher than their polling numbers, while Tulsi Gabbard’s “will she, won’t she?” cliffhanger has also led to a slight bump in attention. 

With that in mind, each of those candidates, plus Klobuchar, Booker, Castro and Steyer, have their work cut out for them tonight if they’re hoping to make an impact on this race over the long term.

Be sure to check back in after the debate for analysis of how each candidate’s SOV fared during and after the event itself.