How the First Debate Reframed the Obama Campaign

October 12, 2012 • Chris

Originally posted on Analysis Intelligence

The first presidential debate held last week has been widely panned and in many circles proclaimed a significant failure for Barack Obama. While we’re not going to further comment on the president’s performance, we do want to examine its effect on the media’s framing of his campaign.

To do so, we used Recorded Future to identify the subjects most associated with Barack Obama during the week prior to and the week after the debate. What we found was a noticeable shift away from reporting on Obama’s foreign policy, deemed by many as a strength of his first term, to domestic issues on which Romney succeeded during the debate.

Below are the top terms related to Obama during the 7 days prior to and after the debate (note: we omitted party names and labels, Mitt Romney, and debate location):

7 days pre-debate 7 days post-debate
 Iran  Unemployment
 Ohio  George W. Bush
 White House  White House
 United Nations  Medicare
 Libya  Ohio
 Middle East  Colorado
 Israel  Iran
 Benjamin Netanyahu  Libya
 China  Florida
 Florida  Virginia
 Muslim  Joe Biden
 Paul Ryan  Paul Ryan
 George W. Bush  Congress
What’s most noticeable? The shift away from foreign policy to domestic issues:

  • The biggest jump? Unemployment, which didn’t register in the top 20 issues related to Obama by the media in the run-up to the debate but was the top issue afterwards.
  • Seven of the top ten subjects related to Obama prior to the debate were foreign policy related. You could perhaps add another one with the mention of the White House since many of the references are discussing the reaction to the September 11 attack in Benghazi.
  • After the debate: 7 of the top 10 subjects related to Obama were domestic. These included policy issues (unemployment, Medicare), swing states (Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia), and mentions of George W. Bush, which were typically in reference to state of the economy and wars inherited by Obama.
  • What remained in the top 10 from the foreign policy side? Iran and Libya were still hot topics although the latter has turned into a damage control issue for the Obama campaign over their handling of security in the lead up to the consulate attack and death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

What surprises you? Did the refocus on domestic issues cause the dramatic shift in poll results? We’ll return with a similar analysis of the forthcoming vice presidential debate to see how the performances by Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are received, but in the meantime, leave us a thought on the above results.

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