The “moments” of the second presidential debate — in 2 charts

October 17, 2012

 Debates are about moments.

While in an ideal world every citizen would watch the entirety of each of the three 90-minutes presidential debates, we know that it just doesn't happen that way.  Most people tend to consume these debates -- and have their final judgments influenced on who won and who lost -- by the coverage in the days following the festivities. And the coverage focuses on a few moments that stood out -- not the entire 90 minutes of the debate. (This is not unique to politics; the success of "SportsCenter" is born of a desire for the moments from each game not every pitch or basket.)

As we wrote last night, President Obama wound up the winner in the debate because he scored more moments -- his crack about the size of Mitt Romney's pension, the Libya exchange and closing on the "47 percent" comments -- than did Romney.

Thanks to the glorious power of the Internet, we now have data to back up our "moments" point. 

First, there's this chart from a web company called Google that documents how the search traffic for each candidate ebbed and flowed during the 90-minute debate -- an ebb and flow that included a massive bump for Obama traffic during the Libya exchange:

And here's a chart on how Twitter -- it's a micro-blogging platform --  reacted minute-by-minute to the debate (click on the image for a bigger version):

Now, we are not so insulated within the Beltway bubble to think that search traffic or Twitter volume are representative of how the country as a whole consumed the debate.

But, what the two charts above do indicate is that when it comes to moments in the debate, Obama had more of them. That reality will drive coverage of the debate for the days to come -- a focus that will trickle down to how average people think about who won and who lost.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · October 17, 2012