Pence and Kaine Won Tuesday’s VP Debate

Despite No Change in the Race, Both Vice Presidential Candidates Gained Greater Public Approval and Twitter Engagement

Michael Cohen
Published in
6 min readOct 7, 2016

Snap polling taken right after Tuesday night’s debate found Gov. Mike Pence won the debate over Sen. Tim Kaine 48% to 42% but any effect on the race for the presidency was limited due to relatively low viewership. The RealClearPolitics polling averages show that Clinton has held her lead over Trump, which was 3.2% on the day of the VP debate and remains at … 3.2% as of today, Thursday, October 6. | Are we sure there was a debate on Tuesday?

It’s like the Veep debate never happened — but they rarely matter. As I wrote last week, we did see some initial movement in the polls immediately following the first presidential debate. Clinton was up only 1.6% the day of the debate and now her lead has doubled. The venerable team at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics noted today that Clinton has regenerated her electoral college lead based on post-debate polling.

Expectations and Reactions

Going into the debate, expectations were about even. A CNN/ORC poll found 38% of the public thought Pence would win and 38% thought Kaine would win. The poll also showed that each had the same 38% in favorability and a 30% unfavorable rating. These net positive favorability ratings are substantially higher than the RealClearPolitics aggregates for Clinton (-10.6%) or Trump (-19.6%).

Based on the media reaction, we would expect that Pence would have had more to gain personally. In conservative circles, there’s plenty of talk of Pence being the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2020. An example: this tweet and follow-up article by Erick Erickson, a #NeverTrump conservative who was previously against Pence because was with Trump.

For Kaine, it was a bad night. From former top Obama advisor David Axelrod to liberal MSNBC host Chris Matthews, there was plenty of friendly fire, generally focused on Kaine being miscast as an attack dog or his frequent interruptions, which overwhelmed parts of the debate. As usual, a solid analysis of this and other in-debate metrics was provided by 538.

FiveThirtyEight | Kainus Interruptus

Bottom line: When the very best your campaign chairman could say was that you achieved your “strategic mission” and that your opponent was “smooth” and “sort of likable” everyone knows what happened. Kaine lost.

Polling Gains

So qualitatively, we can say that Pence got a perceptual boost from the debate. He won the media and the political reaction. How about the public reaction? Again, let’s reference the CNN/ORC poll way down to questions 104 and 105 on favorability, properly phrased and rotated to minimize bias.

CNN/ORC Poll October 4, 2016 | Telephone Survey MoE +4.5%

Kaine gained 1% in favorability but also increased his unfavorable rating by 12%, netting a -11% overall rating. Pence gained 7% in favorability and lost 4% for a net +3% overall rating. Still, as you can see below, they’re essentially now even and viewed more positively by the public than when they went into Tuesday night.

On the question of expectations, only 38% of the public thought Kaine did better than they expected while 67% said they thought Pence did better than they expected. This also worked in Pence’s favor in reverse: 43% said they felt Kaine did worse than they expected while only 14% said they thought Pence did worse than they expected.

Finally, it’s now clear that Tuesday night’s performance has launched Pence to the head of the pack for 2020. In the prospective matchup, a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found 22% of Republicans want Pence to be the nominee, followed by Paul Ryan and Donald Trump at 13%, Ted Cruz at 12%, and John Kasich at 7%.

Twitter Analytics

While this was the least viewed VP debate since 2000, there was plenty of engagement on Twitter for both candidates. Pence’s Twitter account grew 30% since Monday while Kaine’s, which still has more followers, is up 14%. Pence had more replies and retweets than Kaine (509,548 to 506,219) while the Democrat had significantly more than the Republican on how many potential Twitter users reached on sent posts (125,722,798 to 228,295,666).

Crimson Hexagon | Pence’s Week in Twitter Followers
Crimson Hexagon | Kaine’s Week in Twitter Followers

What may be more interesting, however, is the growth of both relatively obscure career politicians on the Twitter platform. The first bump is when they were announced as the running mates and the second is Tuesday’s debate. Both “won” but Kaine’s has gained more followers this year.

Crimson Hexagon | Pence’s Year in Twitter Followers
Crimson Hexagon | Kaine’s Year in Twitter Followers

By comparison, the debate did not do very much for the principals. Both Clinton and Trump only increased their followers by 1% apiece. While this continues an upward trend for Clinton, it looks like the number of followers for Trump’s account has tailed off.

Crimson Hexagon | Clinton’s Week in Twitter Followers
Crimson Hexagon | Trump’s Week in Twitter Followers

The Clinton and Trump accounts were very active, however. On October 4, Trump had 574,294 mentions (retweets and replies) to Clinton’s 321,160. Trump had 3.3 billion total potentilal impressions on sent posts to Clinton’s 2.7 billion. However, this edge didn’t do much for Trump, who’s total potential impressions dropped 30% over the past week while Clinton’s increased 24%, reflecting the view of some pundits that Kaine did more for his principal while Pence did more for himself. Again, both candidates won something on Tuesday night.

Preview of 2020

Regardless of who wins, both Pence and Kaine are well-positioned to grab the mantle in 2020, with a very early edge for Pence. Remember, the same post-debate snap poll from CNN/ORC had Paul Ryan winning the debate over Joe Biden by almost the same margin (48% to 43%). Both did well in the aftermath. As we found in our previous research on candidates who suspended their campaigns, engagement will drop but followers will continue to grow, leaving candidates a valuable resource to tap in the future.

If you enjoyed this article, click the💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium. Follow me on Twitter @michaelcohen. You can follow our research on our website or on Twitter @PEORIAProject, which is funded by a generous grant from Mark R. Shenkman. To learn more about the Graduate School of Political Management visit our website or follow us on Twitter @GSPMgwu.



Michael Cohen

Founder of Cohen Research Group. Publisher of Congress in Your Pocket. Lecturer at Johns Hopkins. Author of Modern Political Campaigns