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Insights Lab, voters weigh in on debate impact on S.C. primary

The USC Social Media Insights Lab says Biden had most positive reaction on social media, as voters say debate changed minds

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The University of South Carolina Social Media Insights Lab, which monitors sentiment and posts on social media using artificial intelligence software, said debate night was a good night for Joe Biden.

Lead analyst Kait Park said during Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Charleston Biden received the most posts.

“Then during the debate, Joe Biden wasn't really being talked about so much leading into the debate, he was still there, right behind Bernie, but then as the debate actually went underway, we saw just a really huge spike in activity related to Joe Biden,” Park said.

Leading up to the debate, Bernie Sanders was receiving the most posts, which Park attributed to his grassroots social media support in the state.

Park said their data, compiled from public posts on social media sites like Twitter, showed people liked Biden's energy.

Credit: Univ. of S. Carolina
USC Insights Lab data shows the number of posts for each candidate during the debate

“His sense of humor, just his energy, just saying you know this looks like a president, where has this Joe Biden been? Things like that,” Park added.

In the past, Biden failed to see much of a positive reaction on social media due to his lack of supporters on social media, according to Park.

But during the debate, Biden received the highest positive sentiment.

“Last night, during the debate we did see a really strong positive sentiment towards Joe Biden, more so than Bernie Sanders, but Pete Buttigieg was closely following Joe Biden in positive sentiment and then Elizabeth Warren was following Pete Buttigieg,” Park said.

Credit: Univ. of S. Carolina
USC Insights Lab data shows Bernie Sanders is slightly behind Joe Biden in positive sentiment

In a comparison of monthly positive sentiment for Democratic candidates Joe Biden was also slightly higher than Sanders for the month of February.

Some South Carolina voters said the debate played a role in their decision.

Wednesday afternoon, the line to vote absentee in-person in Richland County was starting to snake down the sidewalk.

About half of the voters WLTX spoke with after voting said the debate on Tuesday impacted their choice.

“After last night, the way I saw the other candidates go after my candidate, made me realize my candidate was the best candidate,” said James Staples, a self-described independent.

“Well, I think I got to see everyone speak up a bit more and challenge the others a bit more. And so then there was room to kind of make a better decision about who would be the better candidate in the general election and so that’s what helped me,” said Sharon Williams.

Williams said she usually voted with the Democrats in past elections.

Other voters said Tuesday had little impact on their choice as they already had their preferred candidate.

South Carolina’s primary is scheduled for Saturday, February 29th.

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