Prior to the CNN GOP Primary Debate last Tuesday, October 18, Texifter analysts had been collecting Tweets relating to every major Republican contender since late August. Earlier in the fall, we reported on the number of Tweets per candidate, which darkhorse Ron Paul and Texas Governor Rick Perry fought for the top spot. Now with the debate fresh on people’s mind, and the Iowa caucuses less than 3 months away, we have decided to take a look at candidate sentiment before and after the debate for the top 3 candidates in the Republican race, which at the time were Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry.
To gauge sentiment before and after the debate, we only considered Tweets which were created the day before, and the day after the debate, meaning, no Tweets on October 18 were considered in the analysis. Both the day before, and after the debate, Herman Cain was the most mentioned candidate. In the two days, Cain registered nearly 30,000 Tweets, while his competitors, Romney and Perry did not register that same amount combined. The number of Cain Tweets was probably inflated by his ultra-popular, but heavily ridiculed 9-9-9 Tax Plan, which was rumored to be taken from popular computer game Sim City, and thus caused a major spike in Tweets. To analyze the Tweets, we formed individual classifiers, for each candidate, and trained them on data regardless of whether the Tweets were from before or after the debate.
Prior to the debate, no candidate had especially gained the support of a major audience on Twitter. The closest a candidate came to Twitter approval was Mitt Romney, who’s 19% pro-candidate mentions made him the most popular of the Republican candidates. Prior to the debate Romney registered many headlines, and in general, far less scathing statements than his cohorts.
The once high-and-mighty Rick Perry had very tough luck, only garnering 12% pro-candidate mentions prior to the debate. His problems do not end there, Perry, also racks up the highest number of anti-candidate mentions prior to the debate. These Tweets often mentioned is less than stellar performance in previous debates, cryptic messages on the economy, and the cruel irony of his similarities to former President George W. Bush. Herman Cain is the middle-man, and, unlike Perry is commonly mentioned in positive Tweets which highlight his great “All-American story and his seeming clarity on tough issues.
However, this is dwarfed by comic mentions of his 9-9-9 Tax Plan, his tenure as the CEO of the Godfather’s Pizza Chain, and some of his off-color statements during the campaign. In the dubious honor category, Tweets relating to Herman Cain were by far the funniest of the bunch, with statements such as, “when people realize that Herman Cain SOLD pizza, and IS NOT actually pizza, his poll numbers will plummet,” it would be fun to conduct another crowdsourcing project to look for the funniest of the bunch.
Post-debate, while overall post debate numbers did not fluctuate greatly, Rick Perry was certainly the big loser. Perry, who has the smallest amount of pro-candidate Tweets to begin with, dropped from 12% to 4%. To make matter worse, the number of anti-candidate Tweets increased by 11 percentage points, meaning 65% of Perry Tweets were negative. Perry had many angles which criticism came from, most visible was his “showdown” with Mitt Romney, his attempts to paint Mitt Romney’s religion as bizarre, and for addressing Herman Cain as “brother” during the debate. None of this bodes well for Perry, who, has been plummeting in the polling for the New Hampshire primary, and now has fallen well behind both Cain and Romney.
Mitt Romney improves a fair amount post-debate, as the percentage of anti-Romney Tweets decreased by 7 percentage points. However, this 7 percent move when to the Neutral Tweet category, as the number of Pro-Romney Tweets remained stagnant at 19%. Neutral Tweets can be the best devicesfor publicity, and could be a goal of the Romney campaign. Most of these Tweets were simply headlines with a Romney current event, which can proliferate online.
Post-Debate, there are numerous Tweets which have re-Tweeted headlines directly pertaining to the debate, the vast majority of which include the name “Romney” in the headline. Many of these highlighted his “showdown” with opposing candidate Rick Perry, which most news outlets declared Romney the big winner. There are many positive mentions of how Romney successfully beat Rick Perry in the debate, however, there is much negative commentary on how Romney is the “banksters” choice, who will continue to hold Wall St. in a higher regard than the average person. There is also extensive discussion of Romney’s time as Massachusetts governor, and the health plan which he created, one Tweet reads, “mitt Romney saying get rid of “Obama-care” but his healthcare plan in Massachusetts was more or less the same.” meaning people realize Romney is changing view on an issue he once fought for as governor, an image that a Romney campaign manager would surely like to erase from the Twittersphere.
Finally, Herman Cain, numbers stayed the steadiest of any of the major candidates. Post-debate the number of positive Tweets increased nominally, going from 14% to 15%, with the difference stemming from a one point decrease in negative Tweets. While this may look positive for Cain, statistically, this change is meaningless.
The majority of the post-debate Tweets continued similar themes from prior to the debate. Jokes relating to his status as a former CEO, and his stance toward social welfare and occupy Wall St. Having been the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, he is the brunt of many pizza related jokes, including one, “when people realize that Herman Cain sold pizza, and IS NOT pizza, his poll numbers will plummet,” this gets my vote for funniest Cain Tweet. Being the only African American candidate in the Republican primary contest, Cain does garner some racial comments, although the vast majority do not seek to be offensive. The overwhelming majority pertain to a debate incident in which Mr. Perry referred to Mr. Cain as “brother,” while calling Mr. Romney “sir.” The names calling is adding more problems for the Perry campaign, the Tweets joke that Rick Perry was displaying a “southern good ‘ole boy” racial bias, and Cain should have been more aggressive in identifying this. Taking this as the exception, there is very little mention of his standing as the sole African American candidate in the primary contest.
While no candidate improved greatly after the debate, the sentiment post debate certainly does not bode well for Rick Perry, who is the brunt of jokes from all parties. Herman Cain continues his charge forward, but his momentum seems to be stalling as people begin to examine him more closely and take him as a serious candidate. Finally, Mitt Romney continues to lead the pack. There is certainly a long road ahead, New Hampshire and South Carolina can change the game, but as it stands now, Romney is the man with the target on his back.