Social media commentary was fairly closely divided on who did better in Thursday night's vice presidential debate, according to NBC Politics' computer-assisted analysis of more than half a million Twitter and Facebook posts during and after the debate — and people's opinions either way largely came down to what they thought about Joe Biden's hyperkinetic performance.
Analysis through noon ET Friday suggested that a plurality of commenters thought Biden did better than Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin:
That works out to a 53 percent to 47 percent edge for Biden among commenters who expressed clear opinion.
(NBC Politics analyzed 517,000 posts using a tool called ForSight, a data platform developed by Crimson Hexagon Inc., which many research and business organizations have adopted to gauge public opinion in new media. It isn't the same as a traditional survey, which seeks to reflect national opinion; instead, it's a broad, non-predictive snapshot of what's being said by Americans who follow politics and are active on Facebook, Twitter or both at a particular moment in time, and why they're saying it.)
Generally speaking, pro-Biden comment was straightforward: He did better than Ryan, and he may have helped to make up some of the ground President Barack Obama was perceived to have lost in his debate last week with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney:
But pro-Ryan commentary was very different. Even people who thought he did better were likely to characterize their opinions in reaction to Biden, rather than highlight what impressed them about Ryan — much of whose favorable sentiment was expressed as annoyance at the vice president.
A representation of key words in comments that said Ryan did better illustrates the degree to which his performance was defined in relation to Biden's. Notice that the word "Biden" is fully as prominent as the word "Ryan":
In sharp contrast, "Ryan" shows up far less prominently in the reciprocal visualization of key words in comments that said Biden did better (it's nestled in the middle of the cluster on the left of the image):
A different visualization gives a better idea of why pro-Ryan commenters were pro-Ryan: They found Biden's interruptions and exasperated reactions — captured in split-screen throughout the 90 minutes of the televised debate — to be rude and condescending:
Almost as widely discussed a figure was the moderator, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, who was either tough and fair or in the tank for Biden, depending upon who you thought did better:
The question remaining to be answered is whether the debate will have made any substantial difference. Many commenters remarked that while they thought one man or the other did better, the debate was unlikely to sway Election Day preferences — a sentiment that was best summed up in this observation: