Experts analyze second presidential debate

The most tweeted moment in the second Presidential Debate came in the closing moments when President Barack Obama pounced on Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s closed-door reference to 47 percent of Americans acting as victims. “Think about who he’s talking about,” Obama asked the town hall meeting in Hempstead, N.Y. “Folks on Social Security who have worked all their lives, veterans who have sacrificed for this country, students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams.”

His comments drew nearly 17,800 tweets at that time point, according to an analysis by researchers at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. “Obama played the 47 percent card as a walk off. Ouch,” said one tweeter from Dallas.

The second most tweeted topic was gas prices, associated with about 16,000 tweets, with Obama challenging Romney’s criticism that gas prices were lower when he took office versus current rates of over $4 a gallon. “Why is that?” Obama countered. “Because the economy was on the verge of collapse. Because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

“Nice zinger from Obama. Romney will lower gas prices by bringing back financial crisis conditions,” wrote one Washington, D.C. tweeter.

Viewers did not like how Romney interrupted and was rude to Candy Crowley, the moderator. At that point in the debate, there was a peak of 15,700 tweets, many of which commented on Romney trying to correct Crowley on the rules of the debate.

How the Obama administration handled the attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, created another spike of about 13,000 tweets. Obama said, “I’m the President and I’m always responsible and that’s why nobody is more interested in finding out exactly what happened.” A similar number of tweets came when Romney accused Obama of misleading the American people about whether or not the killing of the American ambassador to Libya was a terrorist act. The president called that charge “offensive. That’s not what we do,” he said.

The next spike in tweets — about 11,400 — came when Romney raised the issue that everyone with pension funds has investments in China, not just him. “Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?”

“I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long,” Obama replied.

As in the first two debates, according to Twitter, the debate drew a heavy response of 7.2 million tweets. Shortly after the debates, CNN’s Instant Poll showed that 46 percent of viewers thought Obama won, while 39 percent said Romney won. Following the debate, the Twitter chatter focused heavily on Romney’s explanation of how he tried to hire women when governor of Massachusetts. “I went to a number of women’s groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.”

“Obama won, no contest. Romney gave the Internet binders of women,” said one tweeter. “When Romney is president, he’ll put a chicken in every pot and a woman in every binder,” said another.

A team of researchers with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri is examining how viewers throughout the nation respond in real time via Twitter to the presidential candidates and their performances during the presidential debates.

The RJI Presidential Debate Twitter Team at the Missouri School of Journalism will harvest citizens’ tweets from throughout the nation as they are posted during the debates. The project is led by political communication experts Mitchell McKinney and Brian Houston. The research used Topsy Pro, which provides statistics regarding specific terms used in Twitter conversations.

To better understand how citizens in different geographic locations respond to the two presidential candidates and the debates, the project has partnered with two leading U.S. newspapers, the Florida Times Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) and the Dallas Morning News. There were clear differences in what fired up tweeters in these cities compared with national responses.

Media outlets can contact Professor McKinney for comment and analysis at the University of Missouri Department of Communication, 573-882-9230 (office), 573-489-9709 (mobile) or by email at Professor Houston can be reached at University of Missouri Department of Communication, 573-882-3327 (office) or by email at


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