Aug 5, 2019

Bernie Sanders wins Twitter in hyper-engaged debate week

Data: Sprout Social; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Bernie Sanders had the highest volume of Twitter mentions in the second round of the Democratic debates last week, and the debates generated 18% more tweets than the first round in June even though the TV audience was much smaller, according to data provided to Axios by Sprout Social.

Why it matters: Compared to the first round, last week's debates were heavier on disagreement and confrontation, allowing voters to see discrepancies in the candidates and how they responded to challenges in real time, a departure from rehearsed stump speeches.

By the numbers: 15 of the 19 candidates had more mentions during the second debate than the first. (Eric Swalwell dropped out of the race after the first debate, while Steve Bullock joined the stage for the second round.)

  • There were 1.97 million tweets about the candidates during the second round of debates vs. 1.67M in June.
  • Those tweets generated 1.49M interactions last week vs. 1.41M in June.


  • Sanders was mentioned more than any other candidate during last week's debates.
  • His biggest moments were his impassioned defenses of Medicare for All, including responding to Rep. Tim Ryan's doubts about what is covered in the plan: "I do know it. I wrote the damn bill!"
  • Elizabeth Warren has been mentioned more than any other candidate in aggregate for the two debates.
  • Andrew Yang has been hanging around the bottom end of the top tier of candidates in polling, but he nearly doubled his mentions in last week's debate — 4th-most of any candidate.
  • Interest in Marianne Williamson on social media continues to outpace her polling by a big margin.


  • Julián Castro, one of the risers in June's debates, was less visible and saw his mentions drop by a third.
  • Beto O'Rourke's numbers dipped from the previous debate, and his place in these rankings (11) lags well behind his polling (6, per Real Clear Politics).

Between the lines: Yang got more of his mentions from voters 18-24 (31%) than any other candidate, while Amy Klobuchar (36%) had the highest proportion from older tweeters (55+).

  • Yang had the highest proportion of his mentions come from men (71%), and Castro had the highest for women (53%).

Go deeper

The 2020 candidates who have qualified for the next Democratic debate

Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren. Photos: Scott Olson/Getty Images, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images, and Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The fourth round of Democratic debates will be held on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio, with 12 candidates onstage, making it the biggest single-night debate to date. 

How it works: This debate had the same requirements as September's. Qualifying candidates must have reached 2% in 4 DNC-approved polls and drawn 130,000 unique donors — including 400 donors in 20 different states. Oct. 1 was the final day to make the cut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Oct 2, 2019

Kamala Harris' post-debate polling slump

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the Detroit debates hosted by CNN. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

After June's Democratic presidential debates, Sen. Kamala Harris has gone from a high of 20% of Democratic voters who favor her to just 7% on Tuesday, per Quinnipiac.

Why it matters: That 13-point drop in just one month indicates Harris' post-debate "sugar-high" might not be aging well, despite the fact that she's firmly established herself in the top tier of candidates in several national 2020 polls.

Go deeperArrowAug 7, 2019

Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Bloomberg finally upends the national conversation

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios — Note: Hover over the weekly rank on desktop to see articles and interactions for each candidate and issues.

Stories about Michael Bloomberg last week generated 9.4 million interactions on social media — more than twice his previous high. Still, he's getting lapped by Bernie Sanders, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: This was the point when Bloomberg converted massive spending into significant organic interest in his campaign, but it may be no match for the Sanders grassroots army.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy