With the recent campaign announcements by Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick, it’s difficult to make a definitive call on whether or not the Democratic field is actually narrowing. What we do know for certain, however, is that only 10 candidates have qualified for tonight’s debate in Atlanta. That’s two less than last time, but still too many for any one candidate to guarantee that they’ll get more than a couple of shots to make their case to the nation in a compelling fashion. 

To get an initial read on how the night’s event 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.

Frontrunners – Analysis

Bernie Sanders’ online fanbase remains as fervent as ever, propelling him to the greatest margin between poll data and SOV of any of the candidates. In recent days, Sanders’ tweets on various facets of economic and healthcare reform, as well as strong support for deposed Bolivian leader Evo Morales, have helped him to dominate SOV among the candidates. 

Elizabeth Warren has also been attracting a good amount of attention in the past few days, controlling 17% of the SOV for all debate candidates – a feat that is all the more impressive given that the Massachusetts Senator hasn’t had a standout, viral moment in the past few days.

Despite leading the national polls, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign isn’t attracting as much commentary or discussion as his campaign staff would surely hope for. Indeed, over the past few days, Biden’s campaign has seen similar levels of attention as Andrew Yang’s – a candidate who is polling 29 points lower at this point. As with Sanders and Warren, Yang seems to be benefiting from a highly engaged online fanbase. 

Kamala Harris appears to be experiencing the flip side of the polling vs. SOV coin. While she has definitely been one of the more talked-about candidates over the past few days, much of the conversation has been around internal strife within her campaign, as well as speculation that her Senate seat in California may be at risk.

Perhaps the most curious stat in the SOV figures for the past few days is Pete Buttigieg’s performance. Recent strong polling in Iowa, and rising prominence in the campaign in general, have not been reflected in an increased SOV heading into this debate.

The I-Word

Elsewhere, the bottom four candidates are struggling to make an impact either in the polling or SOV – a problem that has only been compounded by the unfolding impeachment inquiry in Congress, an event that has sucked most of the political oxygen out of the room even for the leading candidates heading into this debate.

For candidates who are struggling for attention – Gabbard, Klobuchar, Booker and Steyer – impeachment may be the biggest roadblock they face in trying to get their message out. A subject on which there is (already) very little that is original to say, this is nevertheless the first debate since the process began. 

In front of an audience largely comprised of people who support the current impeachment process, finding a way to stand out will be an issue even for the big-name candidates. For those who are polling lower, too much focus on impeachment may well be the thing that stifles all of the big ideas they could otherwise be discussing. 


Want more data-driven analysis of current events? Head to our Blog to read the latest edition of the Labs Report, learn more about #TeamTrees or see how candidates were faring ahead of the debate this time last month.