With fewer than 100 days before Election Day, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions offered Americans the chance to learn more about each party’s platforms and leaders. While tens of millions of Americans watched the conventions live, the vast majority of voters got their convention news after it was filtered through traditional and/or social media.
We dove deep each day into the coverage data to learn what captured the attention of reporters and individuals across the nation, and whether party messaging was breaking through. We discovered five trends worth talking about in our monitoring of convention coverage.
1 Traditional Media Coverage Strayed from Both Conventions’ Declared “Themes of the Day”
As any convention veteran knows, each day typically has a theme, and a set of key messages which are reinforced by speakers. The hope is that those messages drive reporting and analysis. We analyzed the percentage of traditional media coverage stories that included the key messages for each day of the convention.
Around 25 percent of articles written about Day 1 of the RNC mentioned keywords related to the first day’s theme of “Make America Safe Again,” while greater than 43 percent of traditional news coverage on Day 1 of the DNC mentioned some form of the word “unity,” as the Democrats’ theme of the day was “United Together.” The substantial portion of conversation that covered this theme was most likely due to Bernie Sanders’s speech calling for the party to unite around Hillary Clinton.
Both candidates struggled to relay their themes on social media, with the exception of Day 1 at the RNC, where top phrases included “America Safe,” and keywords related to “Blue Lives Matter,” reflecting Donald Trump’s own success with using platforms like Twitter to spread his message.
Both conventions saw around 42 percent – 46 percent of the Day 2 conversation cover their respective themes, though on Days 3 and 4, articles that mentioned themes were few and far between. The DNC’s Day 4 theme of “Stronger Together” resonated slightly more with 10.2 percent of the conversation as opposed to the RNC’s final theme of “Make America One Again” at 6.4 percent.
2 Michelle Obama: The Surprise Standout of Both Conventions
By now, most people are familiar with Melania Trump’s speech heard round the world. When people discovered Mrs. Trump had plagiarized parts of her speech from a 2008 Michelle Obama speech on Day 2 of the RNC, social media mentions of both women skyrocketed, as seen in the word cloud below.
Nearly as many social media users were talking about the current First Lady as were talking about the hopeful First Lady and Donald Trump himself. Republicans were hit with a one-two punch, as both Trump’s mistake and the shift in social conversation overshadowed much of the first day of the RNC.
Courtesy of Meltwater
Michelle Obama again became a primary topic of conversation less than a week later at the DNC, where she delivered what many thought was the best speech of the convention. She was far and away the most popular topic of conversation during Day 1 of the DNC, and parts of her speech were top phrases of the convention on social media, such as the quote, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” which can be seen in the word cloud below. Michelle Obama’s speech contained key phrases that translated easily onto social media.
Courtesy of Meltwater
3 Bill Clinton’s Candid Moment Steals the Show
Democrats may have preferred that online conversation after the final night of the DNC focus on the historical nature of Clinton’s nomination, or the policies she spoke of in her speech. Instead, social media conversation was inundated with images of Bill Clinton gleefully playing with the balloons, a moment that captured the attention of many on social media. One tweet alone earned over 21,000 retweets.
Courtesy of Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images
4 Scott Baio, Willie Robertson, and Sarah Silverman Were Celebrity Favorites
Each election year, celebrities from both sides of the aisle speak at their party of choice’s convention. At the 2016 RNC, Scott Baio and Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson were mentioned most frequently in traditional news publications, while tech titan Peter Thiel was a favorite in social media conversation. Comedian Sarah Silverman received the most coverage from the DNC on both traditional and social avenues, with over 25 percent of her social mentions discussing her comments on the “Bernie or Bust” movement.
5 The RNC Fell Behind the DNC in Viewership Each Night, Except When the Stakes Were Highest
On Days 1, 2, and 3, the DNC pulled in a higher number of television viewers than the RNC had the week prior. However, when Donald Trump gave his acceptance speech on the final night, he earned around 7.5 percent more viewers than Clinton, with 32.2 million people tuning in for the RNC and 29.8 million people watching the DNC on Night 4.
Courtesy of Vox Media, Inc.
Some polls show that Clinton secured a larger bump in the polls after the DNC than the one Trump earned after the RNC, but the race to the White House is far from over. If the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have taught us anything, the information that the media and social media users focus on will play a big role in determining what issues are most important to voters in November.