Twitter buzzes with negativity during debate

Drew Margolin, a Cornell University communication professor who studies human dynamics through social media, has been tracking how people react to presidential candidates on Twitter since the beginning of the primaries. Using a new method of real-time analysis, Margolin and his collaborator, Yu-Ru Lin of the University of Pittsburgh, found the two candidates drew a tremendous amount of negative attention on Twitter.

NOTE: More data and analysis from the beginning of the campaign season can be found at, http://cornellcals.tumblr.com/tagged/Election-2016-Tweets. To monitor how are groups are responding throughout the campaign, check out debatemeter.com

Margolin says:

Negative attention

“Both candidates drew tremendous attention from Twitter, getting mentioned in 30-50 percent of tweets by our group members. Most of this attention was negative, as neither candidate drew significantly positive sentiments from any of the eight groups we tracked, and both drew negative attention from multiple groups.

Negative Tweets

“They did not draw this negative attention equally, however. In particular, while Hillary Clinton did not receive positive sentiments from any group, she came very close with two groups – Defectors to Hillary, Democratic Candidate Avoiders. In addition, only two out of the eight groups expressed relatively negative sentiment in tweets that mentioned her. These groups were the Trump Dumpers and Defectors to Trump, both of whom were consistently negative in their tweets about her in our past data.

“In strong contrast, Trump received almost universally negative tweets. Our data shows that Trump received tweets with relatively negative sentiment in seven out of the eight groups we tracked. Only the Trump Dumpers did not express relatively negative sentiment in tweets about Trump. This appeared to be because, as loyal GOP members who are not particularly favorable to Trump, they devoted the bulk of their attention – 47 percent of their tweets – to Hillary, expressing significant negative sentiment.

GOP group members quiet and ‘head for the exits’ early

“The problem with Trump’s performance is the fact that he drew almost as much attention as Hillary did from Republican groups. While Democratic groups focused substantially more (50–100 percent) on Trump – Trump’s mentions were very close to Hillary’s in two GOP groups (Candidate Avoiders, Trump Avoiders). Both of these groups expressed significantly negative sentiment about Trump but were neutral about Hillary.

“GOP group members were also quieter, in general, than they had been in the past. Members of our GOP groups were less likely to tweet during the debate than they were during the RNC, while members of our Democratic groups were more likely to tweet than they were during the DNC. GOP group members were quiet early in the debate, and seemed to ‘head for the exits’ early as well, with both the GOP Candidate Avoiders and the Trump Avoiders sending fewer tweets in the last half hour of the debate than they did in the 2nd half hour. All other groups increased in their tweets over each half hour period.

Key phrases

“Hillary’s ‘prepared to be president’ claim drew many cheers from many members of Democratic groups. However, the phrases that drew the most consistent attention across the groups were Trump’s ‘stop and frisk’ and ‘law and order’ promises. Interestingly, these drew many serious comments from both sides that typify the divide in this country.

“Overall, tweets must be interpreted in the context of the race itself. To the extent to which Trump still needs to attract more voters, there was no evidence from our Twitter groups that he was successful in doing so. Whether the negative sentiments expressed in tweets about him actually cost him votes, though, is hard to say.

The Twitter groups Margolin is studying throughout the 2016 presidential election:

  • Defectors to Hillary: People who started out with another Democrat, but now follow Hillary
  • Hillary Dumpers: People who started out with Hillary, now follow another Democratic candidate instead (almost always Sanders)
  • Hillary Avoiders: People who started out with another Democrat, dumped them, don’t (yet) follow Hillary
  • Democratic Candidate Avoiders: People who started out with Hillary, now follow no Democratic candidates
  • Defectors to Trump: People who started out with another Republican, but now follow Trump
  • Trump Dumpers: People who started out with Trump, now follow another Republican candidate instead
  • Trump Avoiders: People who started out with another Republican, dumped them, don’t (yet) follow Trump
  • Republican Candidate Avoiders: People who started out with Trump, now follow no Republican candidates

For interviews contact:
Rebecca Valli
office: 607-255-7701
cell: 607-793-1025
rv234@cornell.edu


Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

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