TOPICS > Politics

Debate Was ‘Watershed’ Moment of Multiple Screen Use by Viewers

October 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Daily Download's Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz talk with Margaret Warner about the explosion of Twitter use during the first presidential debate, the use of Google by viewers to research aspects of the candidates' arguments, the most frequently mentioned terms on Facebook, and Xbox's decision to stream the debate to players.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more debate reaction, we turn to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: For that, we turn to our regular look at the campaign as it plays out in social media and on the Web.

And for that, we’re joined again by two journalists from the Web site Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief.

And Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Welcome back to you both.

So, how did last night’s debate play out in social media?

LAUREN ASHBURN, It was a big hit on Twitter, that’s for sure.

There were 10.3 million tweets in the 90 minutes of the debate. That’s more than all of the Democratic National Convention. So we’re really seeing an increase in people’s political interest on Twitter.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN: And what I found fascinating is that usually partisans choose up sides on Twitter. And in this case, you had Republicans who were very pumped up about Mitt Romney’s performance.

One guy wrote, “Who says Romney doesn’t know anything about domestic work? He just mopped the floor with Obama.”

But Democrats were kind of dispirited. And so one African-American gentleman wrote, “For the first time in my adult life,” playing on something Michelle Obama said four years ago, “I’m embarrassed for Barack Obama.”

MARGARET WARNER: So, I noticed from a graphic of the use of Twitter, it went in little peaks and valleys, but it really hit — there was one particular high point and it was during a discussion about regulation.

And it was mostly Mitt Romney. Let’s watch that.

MITT ROMNEY (R): There have been 122 community and small banks have closed since Dodd-Frank.

So there’s one example. Here’s another. In Dodd-Frank…

JIM LEHRER, moderator: Do you want to repeal Dodd-Frank?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, I would repeal and replace it. We’re not going to get rid of all regulation. You have to have regulation.

And there are some parts of Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world. You need transparency. You need to have leverage limits for…

JIM LEHRER: Well, here’s a specific…

MITT ROMNEY: But let’s — let’s mention — let me mention the other one. Let’s talk…

JIM LEHRER: No, let’s not. Let’s let him respond — let’s let him respond to this specific on Dodd-Frank and what the governor just said.

MARGARET WARNER: So, why was that a big moment? Or what were people saying?

HOWARD KURTZ: The reason for the explosion of tweets at that moment is that some people were rooting for Mitt Romney, feeling he should have been able to make his last point.

Some people were rooting for President Obama, who look rather bemused there. And some were voting for Jim Lehrer because this was a very contentious debate in which both candidates kept running through the moderator’s stop signs.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And the phrase “Let’s not” that Jim Lehrer uttered was what they found was tweeted most about.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, a lot of high points really dealt with substance, some kind of weighty issues.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Health care, Medicare.

HOWARD KURTZ: Medicare, absolutely. So there was a lot of…


HOWARD KURTZ: There was a lot of focus on Twitter, even though you only have 140 characters, on the substance.

This was very a substantive debate, I have got to say. But also there was another point when the president said, I have five more seconds. He was trying to get his last point out.

MARGARET WARNER: So quibbling with the moderator was a high point.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right. And we were also talking about Big Bird. That also was trending. So there was a…

HOWARD KURTZ: After Romney said he would cut off the PBS subsidy. So there was a lot of rooting going on.


MARGARET WARNER: I read today that Google talked about their top four searches during the debate, and two of them were Dodd-Frank and Simpson-Bowles. So it looks like people were actually using the Web to do some research.


And what’s interesting if we look at Facebook and Facebook and the terms that people were looking at, you have got Romney, Obama, debate, which you expect, Big Bird again.

HOWARD KURTZ: And jobs. And so again we see the focus on — it was mostly about the economy — you see the focus on the substance of this debate as opposed to just the zingers or the squabbling between the candidates.

And then I was fascinated by the role of Xbox.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Xbox is a controller that you can use in your living room to play games on your television set. And there’s a subscription called Xbox Live.

You can play with people virtually by using a game controller. Well, what happened last night is that Xbox decided to let the video of the debate stream and then they posed questions to gamers saying, at this moment, who would you vote for?

And, immediately, you had Obama 75 percent of the gamers say yes, or Mitt Romney, 10 percent of the gamers say yes.

That’s a fake figure, but you get the point.

HOWARD KURTZ: Even though this is — only about 10,000 participated in this Microsoft game, these are mostly younger men, 18 to 29, who are not plugged into politics, who are harder to reach.

And the fact that they were engaged in answering these questions about presidential debate I think is a watershed moment.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Or a game-changer.


HOWARD KURTZ: A game-changer, very good, that could grow in the future cycles.

MARGARET WARNER: So, watching social media, as you both do, what kind of a moment do you think this debate was last night?

LAUREN ASHBURN: A watershed moment, I really think, a moment…

HOWARD KURTZ: Because people were engaged.

LAUREN ASHBURN: … in time when you are double- and triple-screening it. And I think that that’s the difference from the past. You have someone who is typing maybe on a BlackBerry while they’re watching their television set.

They have their computer here. And it’s changing the way that people actually watch. They’re watching with more inputs than they use to.

HOWARD KURTZ: To me, the takeaway is the real-time nature of this. You don’t to wait for the network polls, which come after the candidates are done going at it, and the more nuanced nature.

Rather than just asking did you think that the president or the governor won this debate, you have people talking about Medicare, as well as Big Bird. So you have a better, clearer picture of what these Americans were thinking in social media.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Howie and Lauren, thank you very much. We will see you again.