#VPDebate between Kaine, Pence stirs social supporters

Vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence defended their running mates in their only debate. Social media, as usual, had its say.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Dan Patterson
Dan is a writer, reporter, and producer. He is currently a reporter for at CBS News and was previously a Senior Writer for TechRepublic.
Terry Collins
Dan Patterson
4 min read

Though not as splashy as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine faced off Tuesday in the only vice presidential debate of the election season, and within 10 minutes they prompted campaign watchers to tweet out more than 56,000 comments using the hashtag #VPDebate.

The hashtag was eventually mentioned more than 2.1 million times, according to Affinio, a social-media intelligence platform.

Also, a calm Pence earned more favorable responses from Twitter followers compared with the combative Kaine, according to social-media monitoring groups Brandwatch and Spredfast. Pence had 1.5 million mentions during the debate, with more than 58 percent of them positive. Kaine had more than 1.2 million mentions, with a 52 percent negative sentiment, Brandwatch said. Those tweets aren't a measure of who won or lost the debate but rather a show of which candidates' supporters are more vocal on social media.

"From my months of political observation, I would say Trump's online supporters -- who are among the most loyal I've ever witnessed (considering brands and politicians) -- are rallying behind Pence," said Kellan Terry, a Brandwatch data analyst.


The stakes were high for Kaine and Pence. Heading into Tuesday's clash at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, the two veep candidates were overshadowed by Clinton and Trump. But the question is whether those sharing their opinions and observations on social media actually care about Kaine and Pence.

The answer: not really. Even the #VPDebate hashtag had a 58 percent negative sentiment during the 90-minute event, Brandwatch said.

Kaine, left, and Pence debate as CBS News' Elaine Quijano looks on.

Kaine, left, and Pence debate as CBS News' Elaine Quijano looks on.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"Social media acts as an echo chamber," said William Stodden, a political-science professor at North Dakota State College of Science and Concordia College in Minnesota. "Real-world events drive interest in social-media outlets of the candidates, as voters see something and then rush to social media to both inform themselves and discuss the event, and then the discourse on social media is used by politicians to drive their campaign."

After a polite exchange following an introduction by CBS News' Elaine Quijano, the debate moderator, the candidates' gloves came off early. Kaine, a senator from Virginia, was expected to keep up Clinton's momentum after many concluded the former secretary of state beat Trump during their first debate, last week. The presidential debate on September 26 was the most-watched and most-tweeted presidential debate ever, according to TV ratings data from Nielsen.

Kaine told Pence Tuesday that, "You are Donald Trump's apprentice," adding, "I cannot imagine how Gov. Pence can defend the insult-driven, selfish need for style of Donald Trump."

But, Pence, Indiana's governor, downplayed Kaine's remarks and sidestepped questions about Trump's crazy week. That week included an early-morning Twitter tirade against a former Miss Universe and Clinton, and reports that the real estate mogul may have lost nearly a billion dollars in a year to, as he put it, "brilliantly" avoid paying income taxes for the past 18 years. The New York Times story that broke the tax news Saturday spawned the hashtag #LastTimeTrumpPaidTaxes.

"The American people want to see our nation standing tall on the world's stage again," Pence said.

The latest CBS News poll found that voters know little about either VP nominee and that neither candidate is viewed favorably by voters who do have an opinion. Twenty-four percent of voters have a positive opinion of Pence, while Kaine is viewed favorably by 19 percent.

Before Tuesday's debate, 47 percent of voters polled said they didn't plan on watching the VP candidates spar.

The rate of conversation about the VP debate on social media was significantly lower than the rate of discussion about the first presidential clash, Spredfast said. About 30,000 people talked about the debate on Twitter, compared with nearly 80,000 who commented during last week's meet-up between Clinton and Trump.

Early on, 18- to 24-year-olds were driving most of the debate conversation on Twitter, Spredfast said. Among the most discussed issues were the economy, taxes and terrorism, the group added. Later, the conversation shifted to police, immigration and refugees. Kaine prodded Pence, saying Trump jump-started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals.

"You whipped out that Mexican thing again," Pence responded, which naturally led to the hashtag, #ThatMexicanThingAgain. The hashtag was still trending on Twitter on Wednesday, with many people taking aim at Pence over using the phrase, which also became a URL, ThatMexicanThing.com, which redirects to Clinton's campaign site.

Still, Pence gained more than 22,000 new Twitter followers compared with 15,000 for Kaine. Trump, as expected, tweeted out that his running mate won hands down, hours after the Republican National Committee's gaffe declaring a Pence victory before the debate started.

Twitter said Trump's tweet was the most retweeted comment about the debate:

Even so, the fact that Pence was mentioned more than Kaine doesn't reflect who won, Stodden said. There will still be plenty of fact-checking and polling for days to come.

First published October 4, 10:31 p.m. PT.
Update, October 5, 9:13 a.m.
PT: Adds more details about the #VPDebate and #ThatMexicanThingAgain hashtags.