Thursday night was the conclusion of the first Democratic primary debate, and, like everybody else, we’re trying to make sense of what we watched. Some candidates had breakout moments while others were pushed to the sidelines. But did these moments really make a difference to viewers?
In an attempt to answer this question, we are trying to sum up the first debate in five charts, including: our poll with Morning Consult, which is tracking the same group of voters’ feelings about the candidates and how they change after the debates; a look at which candidates gained the most followers on Twitter; and of course, how much each of the candidates spoke, including whether they mentioned President Trump.
Going into the debates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both had favorability ratings of more than 50 percent among likely Democratic voters. And after their respective debates, they came out even stronger — respondents who watched the debates gave them the two highest average ratings on performance, according to our poll with Morning Consult.
The debates were also big for some lesser-known candidates, such as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. He went into the debates with a favorability rating just under 30 percent, and respondents rated his debate performance highly, which suggests that it’s more than just his existing fans who thought he did well (as you can see in the chart below). Sen. Cory Booker also had a strong debate performance. But the two candidates currently leading in the polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, both underperformed.
Who’s gaining followers?
After the first night of the debates, Castro was the one to watch — at least on Twitter. He had gained more than 50,000 followers by Thursday afternoon.
But following Thursday night’s debate, Harris gained nearly 60,000 new followers — the most new followers acquired by any of the Democratic candidates between the day of their debate and the following afternoon. This might not come as a surprise, as Harris had a particularly powerful moment when she called out Biden for his remarks about working with segregationist senators and his opposition to school integration via busing in the 1970s, saying the issue affected her personally.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
|No. of Twitter followers|
|Debate Night||Candidate||Before debate||Increase|
Who held the floor?
Of course, in order for any of these candidates to impress viewers or gain followers, they needed to get their message out. As you can see in the table below, Harris and Booker were among the candidates with the highest number of words spoken on either night. But just holding the floor wasn’t enough. Biden, for instance, spoke more words than any other candidate, but according to results from our poll with Morning Consult, he lost supporters, dropping from nearly 42 percent before the first night of the debate to 32 percent after his appearance on Thursday.
|Debate Night||Candidate||Words spoken|
|1||Bill de Blasio||881|
So we also compared the number of words candidates spoke to their polling averages (using all 23 polls that the Democratic National Committee sanctioned for candidates to use in qualifying for the debate). And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of words spoken by each of the candidates roughly correlated with their polling averages over both nights, with the correlation being somewhat stronger during the second debate.
But there were notable outliers, like Booker and Harris, who both spoke more than their polling averages might have predicted. Sanders and Warren were also outliers, in that they spoke less than their standing in the polls might have suggested. And then, of course, there’s Andrew Yang, who spoke the least out of all the candidates even though he was in the middle of the pack in polling average.
Avoid Trump, or invoke him?
One of the most obvious differences between the two nights of debates was how many times the candidates mentioned — or didn’t mention — Trump’s name. The candidates on stage Thursday mentioned the president a total of 34 times, while the candidates on Wednesday mentioned him just 20 times. Notably, Sen. Elizabeth Warren did not use his name a single time on the first night, making her the only one of the four candidates leading the polls not to mention Trump explicitly.
But on the second night, Trump and his administration’s policies took center stage. For example, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has positioned herself as the most anti-Trump candidate, mentioned the president eight times (the most of any candidate on either night), at one point saying he has “torn apart the moral fabric of who we are.”
|Debate Night||Candidate||Trump Mentions|
|1||Bill de Blasio||0|
CORRECTION (June 29, 2019, 10:40 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said Warren was the only top-five polling front-runner not to mention Trump by name. Buttigieg ranked fifth in an average of the DNC’s qualifying polls and also did not mention Trump.