Online buzz surrounding Senators Barack Obama and John McCain remained strong during the three presidential debates in September and October, but voters’ engagement in the debate TV broadcasts declined significantly after the first debate, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Nielsen IAG and Nielsen Online.
“Engagement” refers to the amount of attention paid to a television program by the average viewer. Nielsen measures TV engagement by questioning a representative panel of viewers about their recall of specific telecasts’ content.
Online consumer discussion of both candidates spiked before and after each of the four political debates between September 26 and October 15, according to Nielsen Online.
References to Obama accounted for 1.7% of consumer discussions on blogs and Internet message boards during that period, while mentions of McCain accounted for approximately 1.2% of the chatter on blogs and online boards.
In contrast, voters who watched the presidential debates were considerably less engaged with the second and third debates, compared to the first one, according to Nielsen IAG.
The decline in audience engagement for the latter two debates was driven mostly by uncommitted voters, who had 21% lower engagement in the second and third debates, compared to the first one. Those voters already committed to Obama or McCain showed an 8% decline in engagement in the second and third debates, Nielsen reported.
On average, the debates captured somewhat more attention from those already committed to a candidate, rather than undecided voters.
Voters who watched the vice presidential debate were less engaged than voters who watched the first two presidential debates — but more engaged than those who watched the third presidential debate, according to Nielsen. As with the presidential debates, the VP debate captured more attention from those already committed to either Obama or McCain than from undecided voters.
Overall, men were much more engaged than women with all three presidential debate broadcasts (+11% on average) and the VP debate (+16% on average).
The highest overall engagement levels came from McCain-committed voters during the first presidential debate.