How Twitter Judged the Challengers’ Debate


As part of our ongoing project analysing the role that social media is playing in the 2015 General Election, Demos – alongside Qlik, the University of Sussex and Ipsos MORI – have been working to build new tools to measure real-time reactions on Twitter to the Election Debate series.

Our sentiment tracking during the Challengers’ Debate captured a total of 239,000 tweets sent during the course of the Debate, which references the candidates or key hashtags. This is somewhat down from the volume of the Leaders’ Debate, but nonetheless still represents a significant digital moment in the campaign.

Based on our analysis of the ‘cheers’ and ‘boos’ afforded to each candidate:

  • – Overall winner was Nicola Sturgeon, who received 80 per cent cheers, followed by Ed Miliband (74 per cent).
  • – Biggest loser was David Cameron’s empty chair, which attracted 69 per cent boos.
  • Farage was the only leader to have more boos than cheers, however he also attracted the largest volume of cheers than any other leader (7,359 tweets)
  • – Most popular tweet was Ed Miliband’s “David Cameron has decided not to attend tonight’s debate. If you’re applying for the job of PM, you should turn up to the job interview”, which attracted 3,425 retweets. Incidentally, the sixth most popular hashtag related to the Debate, with 1,275 tweets, was #wherearecleggandcameron.
  • – Most talked about leader was Nigel Farage, with 18,000 tweets – completely eclipsing the second placed Miliband, on 10,000 tweets. David Cameron, as an empty chair, was the third most mentioned, with 7,000 tweets – peaking when both Sturgeon and Miliband criticized his no-show early on.


The biggest moments in the Debate:

  •  At times during the debate, Nigel Farage’s tragic exceeded that received by all the other contested combined, peaking when he was booed by the audience for claiming the ‘real audience’ is at home. It appears that Twitter users weren’t won over by this remark, as it was the most negative moment of the evening.
  • – Both Sturgeon and Miliband’s biggest moment came when challenging Nigel Farage on immigration, as the clapping from the studio echoed across the Twittersphere.
  • – Miliband’s lowest moment came when he was under challenge from Sturgeon not the miss the opportunity to keep the Tories out of Government.

Overall, this was another interesting Debate with a highly engaged Twitter audience. It was particularly interesting in highlighting how choosing to opt-out of physical involvement in such campaign moments no longer offers a free pass: the conversation on social media will go on – with or without you.

On a positive note, we were pleased to find there were more tweets in this Debate about politics than personality – with 65 per cent of tweets referencing politics and policy, compared to 35 focusing on the more superficial aspects of the event. Both parties and broadcasters, and indeed anybody who had hoped the televised Debates might inspire a richer conversation during the campaign, should find this encouraging.


Demos’ Twitter sentiment tracker was featured in both The Telegraph and The Guardian’s live coverage of the 2015 Election debates. We will continue to track the remaining Election Debate(s), as part of our broader work monitoring the influence of social media in the 2015 General Election. Keep up-to-date with our latest research by following us on Twitter.