Joe Biden was the subject of a higher number of Twitter mentions and was watched more on YouTube than was President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, shows a new analysis of online activity of this week's town halls.

Photo credit: LPETTET/Getty Images

Analysis Also Shows the Former VP Watched More on YouTube

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was the subject of a higher number of Twitter mentions and was watched more on YouTube than was President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, shows a new analysis of online activity leading up to, during, and immediately after Thursday’s televised town halls.

The results are consistent with the television ratings of the candidates’ appearances, with the former vice president’s event on ABC drawing 14.1 million viewers and the president’s garnering approximately 13.5 million viewers across NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC, according to the Nielsen ratings.

The study of online activity, conducted by researchers at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, also showed that Biden’s town hall received at least 48 percent more YouTube views than did Trump’s.

“There is undoubtedly more, and perhaps growing, interest in Joe Biden,” says Anasse Bari, a clinical assistant professor in computer science at the Courant Institute and the senior author of the study. “Many had expected President Trump to win the town hall ratings battle, but these numbers, combined with our analysis of online activity, show measurably more attention being paid to his challenger.”

Notably, both candidates appear to have improved their online standing from the first debate, held on September 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. The number of tweets expressing positive sentiment after the town hall in Trump tweets rose by approximately 54 percent from the first debate while the number of tweets expressing positive sentiment in Biden tweets rose by approximately 37 percent.

By contrast, both candidates received almost the same number of tweets expressing negative sentiment (approximately 30 percent of the study’s tweets), or about 4 percent less than first-debate totals.

While online users and television viewers showed more interest in Biden’s town hall and in the candidate himself, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, the moderator for Trump’s town hall, appeared in nine times as many searches as did George Stephanopoulos, the ABC moderator, across all 50 states from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT. Guthrie also began to overtake the president in Google searches shortly after the town halls started and continued to lead Trump until the end of the night; she also surpassed Biden’s search volume.

The team calculated Twitter activity and Google searches in the two hours before, during, and the two hours after the candidates’ town halls. They also noted the numbers of views on YouTube live streams of the respective town halls. 

In addition, the researchers examined Twitter users’ attitudes toward the nominees using Sentiment Analysis algorithms, a commonly used tool that processes natural language and deploys artificial intelligence to interpret and categorize emotions.

They used similar methodologies in analyzing the first presidential debate and last week’s vice-presidential debate.

Among the study’s findings were the following:

●      Biden led against his opponent in Twitter popularity for the first time since his 2020 presidential run announcement: In the study’s Twitter sample for both town halls, Biden was mentioned 6 percent more of the time than was President Trump. This stands in stark contrast to the first presidential debate, when Trump strongly led this metric, having been mentioned 43 percent more of the time than was Biden. 

●      Biden was the subject of a greater number of Google searches during both town hall debates, making up 61 to 80 percent of the search volume for the two candidates across each state.

●      The Google search results were similar to the findings from the first presidential debate, when Biden appeared in twice as many searches as Trump in each of the 50 states. However, during the town halls, while Biden still appeared in more searches than Trump in each state, there was more regional variation. He fell below 66 percent of search volume (i.e., twice as many searches) in South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi—all of which are rated by the Cook Political Report as “Solid Republican” states.

●      The queries that rose most quickly during the town hall relating to Biden were: “Did Joe Biden teach constitutional law?” “Was Joe Biden a professor” and “Joe Biden professor,” while during the first debate many were searching for “Who is Joe Biden?”

The study’s other authors included Courant researchers Alankrith Krishnan, Aashish Khubchandani, Julia Damaris Yang, Daniel Rivera, Vikas Nair, and Matthias Heymann.

Biden’s town hall, held in Philadelphia, Pa., ran from 8 to 9:30 p.m. EDT while Trump’s, held in Miami, Fla., ran from 8 to 9 p.m. EDT.

Press Contact

James Devitt
James Devitt
(212) 998-6808