In 1st GOP Debate, Trump Dominates Emotional Buzz

Trump drove the most Twitter Reactions, but was also the most hated candidate.

Among the most reacted to candidates, Dr. Ben Carson was the most loved.

Relations with Iran, terrorist threats, and marriage equality were the top issue drivers for emotional Reactions.

Viewers and candidates alike were fired up last night over the first 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, co-sponsored by Fox News and Facebook. The top ten GOP presidential candidates went head-to-head with one another, as well as Fox News moderators Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier, regarding hot-button national issues including the Iran Nuclear deal, immigration, and abortion. Using our qualitative analytics tool, Canvs.TV, we broke down the audience’s feelings towards each candidate and the specific moments that spiked emotion throughout the debate.

Despite Facebook’s extreme sponsorship and seemingly intrusive logo placements, social TV audiences still flocked to Twitter in droves to react to the debate. How much? 674,100 unique authors generated a whopping 3.2M Tweets, as measured by Nielsen, and contained 811,251 emotional Reactions. For context, this is 1,023% more emotional Reactions than first GOP candidate debate during the 2012 race. No surprise, Donald Trump was the undisputed social TV champion of the night, accounting for a staggering 30% of total Reactions.

The night kicked off with the “happy hour” debate at 5:00 pm, also referred to as the JV or “kiddie table” debate. 64,114 Twitter Reactions expressed a variety of viewers’ emotions, with former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, being the distinct social television winner. Fiorina drove 11% of the total emotional conversation. Reactions around Fiorina were overwhelmingly positive. 9% of Reactions expressed how people were blown away by her debate tactics, specifically her stance on the deal with Iran, as well as the delivery of her foreign policies. After being edged out of the varsity debate, repeat candidate Rick Perry managed to land in second-place on the first debate’s social stage. Emotional Reactions around Perry, however, were not nearly as positive as they were for Fiorina. 21% of Reactions mentioning Perry expressed hate for his poor debate skills, specifically his comments about Iran. Other repeat candidate, Rick Santorum, did not drive nearly as much emotional conversation as Fiorina or Perry, and still garnered a significant amount of hate from viewers, who took special offense to his Dred Scott reference as a comparison to marriage equality.

Following days of hype, the primetime debate began at 9:00 pm with polling frontrunners Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, John Kasich, and Mike Huckabee. Trump made it clear from the get-go that he would be a force to be reckoned with during the debate. The first top moment occurred at 9:10 pm when funny reactions spiked as moderator, Megyn Kelly, asked Trump about his previous derogatory remarks towards women. He jokingly responded that those remarks were only in regards to talk show host, Rosie O’Donnell. Many viewers Tweeted how funny it was, but as to be expected, O’Donnell and supporters were quick to reply. Trump was also responsible for the emotional spike at 9:25 pm, this time generating hate about the candidate’s “big wall” strategy on immigration. Governor John Kasich stepped into the social spotlight at 10:30 pm when viewers loved his explanation on marriage equality, claiming that though he does not agree with gay marriage, he accepts it. Although Kasich ran in the middle of the pack in terms of driving emotional Tweets, this moment garnered very positive reactions for the Ohio Governor. The last emotional spike came at 10:55 pm with Ben Carson’s comments about racism and the candidates’ closing remarks. Good spiked as viewers claimed Christie, Rubio, and Paul’s remarks were thoughtful and likeable.

*Highlighted cells indicate the candidate that drove the highest share of that emotion.

*Highlighted cells indicate the candidate that drove the highest share of that emotion.

Despite being the distinct winner in terms of audience reaction volume, Donald Trump was the most hated candidate in the debate, frequently being referred to as a “joke” or “disaster”. Jeb Bush also drove a lot of hate, as viewers consistently compared him to his brother, and did not believe he stood a strong ground against Trump. Dr. Ben Carson was considered the most loved candidate, hailed for his smart, considerate, and relatable answers throughout the primetime debate. Marco Rubio also garnered many love reactions for his public speaking prowess and good looks, more specifically his “great” head of hair when viewers compared it to Trump’s. Although Governor Walker entered the debate as one of the top three GOP candidates in the polls, viewers shared hate towards Walker’s seemingly perfunctory answers, but did love his response about economic growth and his Clinton call-out. Governor Christie drove hate during his interaction with Rand Paul about their differences in national security policies. Viewers did not appreciate the candidates’ “petty digs” at one another, however they shared love for Christie’s reply to Senator Paul’s comment about hugging President Obama, recognizing the families of 9/11 victims. Notably, the top two candidates from polls, Trump and Bush, received the most hate throughout the debate. This could mean a polling upset following this first round of GOP debates.

Overall, viewers shared equal amounts of love and hate Reactions this year, however there was a 5% increase in love over the first 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Debate. The topics that hit home with viewers this time around were the candidates’ immigration strategies, stances on marriage equality, and foreign relations policies. In 2012, the American people appeared to be concerned about American-Iranian relations, while also interested in the candidates’ perspectives on contraception and the war on terror. Additionally, there was not a distinct standout candidate in 2012 as there was this year.

According to audience Reactions measured by Canvs, Trump came out on top. And while the candidate generated the most Reactions from audience members, he was very polarizing. The powerful performances by underdogs Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson drove significantly favorable reactions for each candidate respectively. Their performances may signify a change in the polling tides.