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The Second Democratic Debate In 5 Charts

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 20 candidates (10 each night) took the stage in Detroit for the second Democratic primary debate. Topics included how candidates would reform health care in the U.S. and how they view their own electability, with the question of how far to the left the Democratic Party wants to move at the center of it all.

Like we were after the first debate, we are interested in better understanding what we saw and how viewers responded. So we summed up the second Democratic debate in five charts, looking at how long each candidate spoke; whether the candidates gained Twitter followers after the debate; whether they mentioned President Trump; and how many people tuned in to watch each night.

Biden once again held the floor

Once again, former Vice President Joe Biden led the debate with the most words spoken out of any of the candidates. This probably isn’t all that surprising when you consider that Biden spent much of the night deflecting attacks from the others on stage. (Debate rules gave anyone mentioned by name 30 seconds to respond, so all that criticism gave Biden extra speaking time.) Biden was involved in several exchanges where other candidates criticized his track record on criminal justice, including one in which Sen. Cory Booker said, “If you want to compare records, and I’m shocked that you do, I am happy to do that.”

After Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris held the floor the longest, which puts her one step up from where she finished in the first debate. And this time, Sen. Elizabeth Warren came in third, which was a big improvement over her seventh-place ranking last time.

Who spoke the most?

Number of words candidates spoke during the second Democratic debate

Debate Night Candidate Words spoken
2 Joe Biden 3,819
2 Kamala Harris 3,186
1 Elizabeth Warren 2,805
1 Pete Buttigieg 2,651
1 Bernie Sanders 2,642
2 Cory Booker 2,155
1 Amy Klobuchar 2,043
2 Kirsten Gillibrand 2,012
2 Julián Castro 2,000
1 Beto O’Rourke 1,930
2 Tulsi Gabbard 1,817
1 John Delaney 1,815
1 Steve Bullock 1,804
1 Tim Ryan 1,770
2 Michael Bennet 1,740
2 Jay Inslee 1,731
2 Bill de Blasio 1,724
2 Andrew Yang 1,710
1 Marianne Williamson 1,637
1 John Hickenlooper 1,570

Excludes words spoken in Spanish.

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

We also charted how many words candidates spoke vs. their polling averages to see if the front-runners dominated or if any lower-tier candidates managed to hold the mic for longer than expected. The polling average is based on the eight debate-qualifying polls released since the first debate.

As in the first debate, candidates who polled better tended to speak more, though that correlation is much stronger this time around.1 For instance, as the polling front-runner, Biden also handily led in the number of words spoken. But Harris and Warren held their own, commanding the floor about as much as you would expect given their polling averages. Sanders, on the other hand, actually spoke a little bit less than anticipated for someone with his standing in the polls. And there were, of course, a few outliers. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Booker all polled at a relatively low level but spoke a comparatively large number of words.

Yang and Gabbard picked up the most followers

Businessman Andrew Yang acquired the most new Twitter followers (25,841) of any candidate during the second Democratic debate. Part of his surge may be because of his witty one-liners, such as when he said during his opening remarks, “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.” Or it could be because of his proposal to give every adult $1,000 a month, which has become a trademark of his campaign.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also made waves online — she gained the second most new Twitter followers (21,629), and she was the most Googled Democratic candidate during the second night of the debate. Part of Gabbard’s surge may be because of her confrontation with Harris over the former California state attorney general’s record on criminal justice. “She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so,” Gabbard said, adding, “She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.”

After the first debate, Harris and Castro led the pack in Twitter followers gained, but they didn’t pick up nearly as many this time around, finishing closer to the middle of the pack after the second debate.

Who gained the most Twitter followers?

Change in Twitter followers from the day before each candidate debated to the day after they debated

No. of Twitter followers
Debate Night Candidate Before debate Increase
2 Yang 542,007 25,841
2 Gabbard 445,113 21,629
1 Williamson 2,712,971 17,135
1 Warren 2,866,266 14,360
1 Buttigieg 1,288,448 10,570
2 Harris 2,996,659 6,856
1 Sanders 9,425,030 6,841
2 Castro 333,277 5,809
2 Inslee 76,815 5,304
2 Booker 4,305,937 5,296
2 Biden 3,634,226 3,665
2 Gillibrand 1,449,327 3,550
1 Delaney 27,834 3,027
2 Bennet 28,876 2,836
1 Bullock 178,591 1,948
1 Klobuchar 732,916 1,639
1 O’Rouke 1,441,471 1,590
1 Ryan 26,655 1,132
1 Hickenlooper 151,014 834
2 de Blasio 164,982 768

Source: Social Blade

More candidates went after Trump

Trump’s name came up a lot more often in the second debate — more than twice as often, in fact.

In the first debate, Warren didn’t even mention Trump’s name, but this time she brought him up 12 times, more than any other candidate. And it wasn’t just Warren shaking up her strategy: All 20 candidates invoked Trump’s name in the second debate, whereas last time six candidates didn’t mention him at all.

Some even used their closing statements to take one last jab at the president. Harris, for instance, referred to Trump as a “predator,” and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro once again vowed to say “adios” to Trump in 2020. And Biden invoked Trump while calling this “the most consequential election any one of you, no matter how old or young you are, has ever participated in.” Biden warned that if Trump remained in office, he would “change America in a fundamental way.”

Which candidates talked about Trump?

How often President Trump’s name was mentioned by candidates participating in either night of the second Democratic debate

Debate Night Candidate Trump Mentions
1 Elizabeth Warren 12
1 Steve Bullock 10
2 Michael Bennet 10
2 Cory Booker 10
2 Kirsten Gillibrand 10
2 Joe Biden 8
1 Bernie Sanders 7
2 Bill de Blasio 7
2 Andrew Yang 7
1 John Hickenlooper 6
2 Julián Castro 6
2 Kamala Harris 6
1 John Delaney 5
1 Tim Ryan 5
2 Tulsi Gabbard 5
1 Marianne Williamson 4
1 Amy Klobuchar 4
1 Beto O’Rourke 4
1 Pete Buttigieg 4
2 Jay Inslee 3

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

Fewer people watched the second debate

After the record viewership of the first Democratic debate in June, there was a pretty stark drop in TV viewership in the second round — 15.3 million watched the first night and 18.1 million the second night. But in the second debate, only 8.7 million watched the first night and 10.7 million the second night. In both rounds of debates, the second night held more of a draw, which could have something to do with Biden taking the stage in the second night both times.

The third Democratic debates are scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13, and because of the stricter qualifying thresholds, it’s possible that there will be only one night. Theoretically, this could help drive viewership, the TV ratings in the 2016 Democratic primary were never as high as in the first debate. Plus, topping the number of viewers from the first debate was always going to be difficult, as the second night of the debate hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo set a viewership record for a Democratic primary debate.


  1. We found a correlation of 0.94 compared to 0.64 in the first debate.

Laura Bronner is a senior applied scientist at ETH Zürich and FiveThirtyEight’s former quantitative editor.

Annette Choi was a data visualization intern for FiveThirtyEight.

Erin Doherty was a politics intern for FiveThirtyEight.

Julia Wolfe is FiveThirtyEight’s former senior editor, data visualization.