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How the Presidential Debates Captivate Social Networking

August 26, 2015 Travis Huff

When the first presidential debate was held in 1858, it was days before word of its content and results reached American citizens throughout the country. Thanks to the advent of television and social media, not only can voters watch as the debate unfolds, they can discuss and dissect it instantaneously. What is it about presidential debates that captivate social networking on such a grand scale? Plenty, as it turns out.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. A reported 24 million viewers tuned in to the GOP presidential debate in August, making it the highest-rated non-sport cable broadcast in history. The debate itself was co-sponsored by Facebook so it’s no surprise that 7.5 million of its users liked, posted, commented, and shared content with each other 20 million times. When you add Twitter, Snapchat, and other social platforms to the mix, the number of social media engagements during the presidential debates skyrockets.

“No wonder it is estimated that online political spending will reach $1 billion in 2016,” writes Daily Sun editor Randy Wilson. “Facebook is even coming out with a breaking news app that will likely carry advertising with it. Research has verified that users are more likely to follow a story in the news media if shared by a friend than if coming directly from a news media outlet, so getting noticed on social media will be important to candidates and the news outlets covering them.”

Indeed, social media engagement surrounding political events has become so important that post-debate analysis in the media often now includes a breakdown of user activity according to platform. It’s information worth tracking because a successful presidential campaign depends on understanding what’s going on in the minds of voters and where they’re talking about the topics that are most important to them. According to Pew Research Center:

  • 66% of social media users (39% of American adults) have political activities on social media
  • 38% of those who use social networking platforms “like” or promote material related to politics or social issues that others have posted
  • 35% have used social networking to encourage people to vote
  • 34% have used the social sites to post their own politically-oriented thoughts or comments

Many Americans hold fast to the idea that it’s best to avoid the topic of politics in the workplace or while socializing with friends so what is it about social media that makes its users want to talk about the presidential debates? For one thing, people love to rally around a common viewing event. From the Super Bowl to the Oscars, nothing unifies social media participants faster than a telecast that’s freely accessible to anyone and guaranteed to entertain.

It’s also important not to underestimate the desire American citizens have to talk about the issues affecting their daily life and politics definitely fit that category. Though people may be reluctant to voice their political opinions during casual social encounters, platforms like Facebook and Twitter give us the chance to think about what we want to say and how to say it.

How have you been using social platforms during the presidential race? Do you participate in the discussions or hang back and just watch?

Photo Credit: NPR

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