Who won the Leaders’ Debate online?

16 Feb 2016

The Leaders’ Debate on RTÉ, via Fusionshooters

The lead up to Ireland’s General Election notched up a level last night (15 February), with the second Leaders’ Debate. But who won the battle online?

It’s always difficult to truly establish winners in political debates as, considering the second-by-second coverage online, it’s really only major gaffes that truly cause a storm.

So, damage limitation seems to be the name of the game. Don’t insult people, don’t say something stupid, and maybe try not to drop your notes so often, eh, Micheál?

For those that missed it, here’s a short behind-the-scenes look from Fusionshooters, with help from the University of Limerick.

Twitter talk

There are interesting elements to glean from social media. Each strand of social media facilitates different demographics of society but, if we were to look at just one, Twitter, for example, then trends do emerge.

For example, researchers from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics took a look at Twitter accounts from the seven leaders featured on RTÉ’s show.

Following the debate, Stephen Donnelly, the nominated representative of the Social Democrats party, garnered the most new followers, by far. Adding 1,457 to his tally, that was almost three times that of second-placed Richard Boyd Barrett, from People Before Profit.

The more established leaders like Micheál Martin (157), Enda Kenny (125) and Joan Burton (105) were less successful.

Leaders Debate General Election #GE16

Apples and oranges

But, when you consider their follow counts are far higher in the first place, this is perhaps more reflective of lesser-known politicians profiting from their prime time exposure.

Donnelly’s relative popularity also translated to his party, which gained more than 400 followers in the same period, double that of most of its rival parties – the same was not true of Boyd Barrett’s party, though.

Elsewhere, PR360’s Twitter tracking of the General Election took an interesting angle last night, too, monitoring the whole audience for the two hours of the debate.

In its coverage, Donnelly again shone, leading the field in “generating the most conversation”, with the 5,286 attributed to his performance more than four times that of Renua’s Lucinda Creighton.

Healthy discourse

Health was by far the topic that generated most Twitter buzz, with crime, rather surprisingly, way back in last spot.

Quite interestingly, the Green Party, miffed at not being included on the panel of politicians, had the second most-interacted-with tweet of the night, which essentially just drew attention to their non-attendance.

A tweet from the Peter McVerry Trust, which has featured prominently in discussions over both Leaders’ Debates so far, was also fairly well received.

General Election #ge16 Leaders Debate infographic


Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic