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Social Chatter and “The Big Mo'”

The nature of elections, especially primary elections, means that they are heavily dependent on the idea of momentum. Voters show up for candidates with “The Big Mo’” and capturing that momentum is the key to making or breaking an election. So how do you know when a candidate has momentum, and can that possibly predict a turnaround in an election? Joe Biden came from being an “also-ran” who had not won a state in a Primary in 3 attempts, to the front runner almost overnight. Most people didn’t see it coming, but were there warning signs?

I took to Social Studio in the wake of Super Tuesday to take a look at the data heading into that pivotal day in the Democratic Presidential Primary. I created topic profiles based around the four leading candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Mike Bloomberg. I then examined the trend data for Twitter and Mainstream Media outlets as well as the top words and sentiment.

Looking at data from February 24 to Monday, March 2nd, I was able to find a few interesting points of information. The first is that for Bernie and Warren, their Twitter chatter that week was business as usual with Warren seeing a 1% increase from the week before, and Bernie a 10% increase. Mike Bloomberg, on the other hand, saw his chatter go down leading into Super Tuesday, a decrease of 49%. Biden was the one with the most significant increase in chatter; he saw an increase of over 174% compared to the previous week. Mainstream news articles about the candidates increased more than social chatter did, 21% and 39% increases for Warren and Bernie, a 55% increase for Biden, and a 1% increase for Bloomberg (though this may be the result of him owning a media outlet of the same name and articles on his outlet about the other candidates would be coded as having his keyword).

The trend data tells another exciting story when looking at Biden’s win. He is the only candidate to see improvement in volume on Saturday, the day he won the South Carolina Primary. Before that Saturday victory and the influx of news articles about it, Biden was tracking behind Elizabeth Warren in the Twitter discussion. He carried that momentum seeing huge increases on Sunday and Monday fueled by endorsements from previous candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to the point that by Monday, he was leading Bernie Sanders in the Twitter discussion.

Sentiment Analysis tells another exciting story. Warren and Biden both lead the way with around 62% positive sentiment, Bernie’s sentiment was a step lower at 53% positive, and Bloomberg falls behind with 48% positive sentiment. The endorsements drove Biden’s positive sentiment; his top positive sentiment words included names like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Beto top his most common positive sentiment Tweets. Bernie’s sentiment was dragged down by discussion about his tweet about fighting the establishment, ‘attacks’ by followers, and his perceived popularity.

All of this paints an interesting picture. Biden went into Super Tuesday with massive positive momentum moving from the 3rd most discussed candidate to the first, driven by positive Tweets related to endorsements and mainstream coverage. Bernie, while not necessarily having negative momentum, did not increase his momentum, and actually had a bit of negative coverage. Bloomberg and Warren really did not compare as much. Based on this information, it makes sense that Biden experienced a huge turnaround in his campaign, but what can this tell us heading into the elections tonight?

I compared Biden and Bernie’s numbers in the past week (the 2nd to the 9th) to see if either candidate was bringing in momentum. Biden is riding a wave of coverage from Super Tuesday, seeing an almost 300% increase over the previous week, which was already up 174%. Bernie saw a modest 15% increase, and it is important to note that Bernie has a very consistent following that talks about him a lot. It is important to note, though, that neither candidate is seeing huge increases in conversation like Biden did before his Super Tuesday. Biden does have strong negative sentiment (53% negative) compared to Bernie’s 54% positive sentiment, with a large amount of that coming in the past few days stemming from a statement he made about Medicare. Sentiment is hard to completely report though as Conversation about both candidates has included discussions about COVID-19, the “Coronavirus” that has become a near pandemic globally. It should be noted that much of Biden’s positive coverage is coming form conversation about Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, whereas Bernie’s coverage is coming from a Fox News Townhall.

Looking at this information, I hesitate to say either candidate has any more positive momentum heading into today’s election. This leads me to believe that we will see a similar night for Biden, though Bernie could close the gap with late voters due to his positive sentiment online.

With another batch of states voting on Tuesday and a debate between now and then, I may update this post to take a look at the information heading into that election.