Since the first Democratic debate Tuesday, there has been endless commentary about which candidate truly “won” the debate. People have cited polls, Google searches and social media coverage. Now here is the view from television, based on new data from the Internet Archive’s television news archive.
We can begin with the total number of mentions per day of each of the major candidates of both parties on national television networks Aljazeera America, Bloomberg News, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, FOX Business, FOX News, LinkTV and MSNBC in the 24 hours since the debate.
Across the nine cable networks, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the clear winner with more mentions than the day she announced her campaign, but Democratic rival Bernie Sanders also did well, earning more than twice as much airtime in the 24 hours after the debate than he has received on any prior day.
Clinton reached 1,898 mentions, while Sanders got 1,115. Of the other Democrats, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley got 335; Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia, got 142; and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, 115.
But Republican front-runner Donald Trump got 915, GOP challenger Ben Carson got 186 and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, 162.
For Clinton, the 1,898 mentions is almost twice as many as her best day since Trump entered the race and 300 more mentions than the day she first announced her campaign back in April.
However, though this was the best showing for O’Malley, Webb and Chafee, the fact that they had fewer mentions than Trump, and that Webb and Chafee had fewer mentions than Carson and Bush, does not bode well for their ability to break into the national limelight.
The Internet Archive and I also used audio fingerprinting technology to break up the entire debate into soundbites, track how often each soundbite was excerpted across major U.S. domestic television networks over the following 24 hours, and create an interactive visualization of which comments went “viral” on television. You can access the interactive visualization yourself and explore the entire debate, including filtering by candidate, keyword, channel, and show.
As the chart below shows, Clinton’s statements accounted for 45 percent of all subsequent excerpts of the debate over the following 24 hours, followed by Sanders at 34 percent. She was the clear winner, but at the same time, it wasn’t quite the 2-to-1 dominance that Trump enjoyed in the first Republican debate.
There were two key exchanges that generated the most television coverage over the following day. The single most-televised moment was Sanders’s line on the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while serving as secretary of state: “Let me say — let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.” That single line received 496 mentions. His follow-up — that the real issue that Americans cared about was not e-mails, but rather the economy — received just 157 mentions. Clinton’s extended attack earlier in the debate on Sanders’s record on gun control was the second-most excerpted line, receiving over 260 mentions.
There was also variation in how much attention each network paid to each candidate (you can see for yourself using the interactive visualization). Telemundo favored Sanders with 41 percent, followed by O’Malley with 24 percent and Clinton at just 21 percent, though admittedly, they broadcast a relatively small number of excerpts. FOX Business also favored Sanders 50 percent to Clinton’s 38 percent, as did CSPAN with Sanders at 52 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent. All other networks favored Clinton, though sometimes by a relatively close margin — like CNBC (50 percent Clinton to 43 percent Sanders) or PBS affiliates (41 percent Clinton to 38 percent Sanders).
Not every network emphasized the same things. Bloomberg, for example, did not pay much attention to Sanders’s comment about Clinton’s e-mail, focusing instead on his and Clinton’s remarks about the economy and income inequality. Al Jazeera emphasized the e-mail exchange, but also the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Syria and gun rights. FOX News focused most closely on all of the statements relating to Clinton’s e-mail use, with less of a focus on gun rights, as did MSNBC. On the other hand, CNN emphasized both the e-mail and gun rights exchanges.
What can we learn from all of this? The bottom line is that Clinton’s remarks received more airtime the day after the debate than did Sanders’s, though she did not dominate news coverage as much as Trump did after the first Republican debate. Both Clinton and Sanders enjoyed their greatest leaps in television coverage since they entered the race, and Sanders’s defense of Clinton’s e-mail was the single most-cited statement from the entire debate, scoring him points in terms of national visibility. The other three candidates failed to break out in any meaningful fashion, either in terms of their comments or in terms of general conversation the following day, suggesting they will really struggle to continue in the race.
In short, television coverage of the debate seems to have been a match between Clinton and Sanders, with Clinton earning an edge. Nevertheless, news coverage suggests that Sanders remains a potent counterforce in the race.
You can follow along with our live daily television tracker (and the mobile-optimized version) or word clouds and drill into the debate in more detail using our interactive debate explorer or explore the first prime and undercard and second prime and undercard Republican debates as well.
Kelav Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. He thanks the Internet Archive’s television news archive for the use of its data in this analysis and Roger MacDonald, Trevor Von Stein, Kyung Lee, Jake Johnson and the rest of the television team for all their work in preparing the transcripts and running the fingerprinting analysis.