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How did the first debate impact the 2016 race?

Last Monday, September 26, U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in the first televised debate of three leading up to the November 8 election. Who won the debate? And how has it impacted this year’s race? We analyzed the data in the 2016 Election Dashboard to find out.

Netvibes Election dashboard

Who won the debate?

There’s no easy answer to this question. Naturally, pundits on both sides disputed who won. In the immediate aftermath, Trump won many of the instant-reaction online polls, though these polls were derided as being unscientific and subject to ballot-stuffing. Later, more formal polls conducted by media organizations found that Clinton was the winner of the debate. CNN’s debate poll named Clinton the winner at 62% versus 27% for Trump.

When we look at the election poll numbers for both candidates, we can see the race has tightened over the past few months. As of October 2, Clinton and Trump are tied in the poll averages with 43.875% each.

Trump vs Clinton polls

Top election issues before and after the debate:

Before the debate, Clinton’s emails were the #1 most-mentioned topic.

Top election issues before debate

However, following the debate, emails fell to #3 behind these most-mentioned election issues:

  • #1 Birther story / Trump is “racist”
  • #2 Climate change
  • #3 Emails
  • #4 Tax returns

Top election issues after debate

This shift in top talking points seems to indicate that Clinton won the debate. Everyone was talking about emails before, and now they’re talking more about climate change, tax returns and the birther controversy, which bodes well for the Democrats. As you’ll recall, Climate Change was the #1 topic at the Democratic National Convention in July.

Alicia Machado: Blast from the past

One subject that was raised by Clinton during the debate and reverberated through the week’s news cycle was Miss Universe 1996, Alicia Machado, who claims she was fat-shamed by Donald Trump. This week was likely the first time you ever heard Ms. Machado’s name. However, when we search for mentions of “Alicia Machado” on the 2016 Election Dashboard, we can see that this story originally surfaced in May 2016. When this storyline first broke back in May, it had a brief 2-day news cycle before completely falling off the media’s radar. Following Clinton’s remarks during the debate, the Alicia Machado story blew up and became an important media influence this week.

Alicia Machado mentions

Debate sentiment:

Overall, there were lots of negative mentions about the debate. On most topics in general, the sentiment tends to be overwhelmingly neutral. What we see here with the first presidential debate is that that people are emotionally engaged with the race. Overall debate mentions were 60.86% neutral, 22.89% positive, and 16.25% negative.

How debate was perceived

When we compare “Conservative Media” with “Liberal Media” (learn more about our sources here), we can see that articles on Conservative Media tend to be more negative than those on Liberal Media, which is a pattern we’ve seen throughout the race. In the week following the debate, mentions on Liberal Media trended 34.71% positive, 12.22% negative, and 6.13% neutral, while Conservative Media was 24.94% positive, 13.11% negative, and 8.89% neutral.

Sentiment in conservative and liberal media

You can see the charts and explore the data for yourself on our live Election Dashboard here:  We’ll keep updating the blog with weekly insights leading up to the November election.

Is there an election issue you’d like us to explore? Leave a comment below.



Written by Kim Terca of Netvibes. Any opinions expressed are my own, not my employer’s.

Analytics are based on a wide variety of online sources collected by the Netvibes dashboard, including news publications, blogs, videos and social media. To see all sources, please visit the Dashboard Tab titled “Sources.” Candidate polling data is sourced from The Huffington Post.

Netvibes’ Election dashboard is meant to provide a neutral analysis of available election data. It should not be considered an official statement by Netvibes, Inc. or Dassault Systèmes.


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