Social Perception Around Benghazi:

There's More Than Just The Polls

The political scene is rife with inflammatory headlines, jabs at politicians, and controversial speculation. There’s one major player who has made her way into headlines more often than other politicians in recent months. Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination for president, has seen her share of wins and losses this year in the political scene, with her most recent media headline producing a response from the public that still remains somewhat ambiguous.
Former hopeful House Speaker Kevin McCarthy inadvertently dropped a wrench right into the political workings of Washington when he made comments about Hillary Clinton’s polling success in relation to the Benghazi scandal, saying:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping, why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened.”

In reaction to this, liberal media sources and prominent figures exploded with anger, many taking to social media to publicly respond with their opinion on the matter.

mccarthy comments volume spike copyMcCarthy may have misspoken and said something he didn’t mean, but the alternative (that what he said is true and the Benghazi investigation committee was created just to sabotage Hillary Clinton) has very serious implications. Whether or not the true intentions of this committee were negative or well-founded, many thought McCarthy’s comments were flawed in a very fundamental way for a different reason: that Hillary’s decline in the polls wasn’t due to the Benghazi scandal, but due mostly in part to other perception issues.
The Washington Post sought out to see if McCarthy’s claims were true, and discovered some interesting results. While Hillary could have justifiably taken a small hit in the polls from Benghazi related media, a much more reasonable assumption is that her personal blunders, namely the infamous private email server scandal, have contributed more to her sliding poll numbers.
Social media insights have further validated this political perception for Clinton. While Benghazi has definitely been a topic of discussion, it pales in comparison to the amount of posts referencing the email scandal, and all of the posts referring to Benghazi aren’t necessarily negative (see our opinion analysis below). benghazi and email scandal category comparison

This data helps to validate the fact that McCarthy falsely attributed Clinton’s falling poll ratings to the Benghazi committee, and show that there were other forces at work in her slight decline. But McCarthy’s comments made major headlines and stirred up a lot of emotions in the political world, practically ensuring that Hillary would see some poll fluctuations, leaving us with the question: did McCarthy’s ill-informed statements hurt Hillary, or help her? Political polls are extremely useful tools when measuring straightforward data such as a comparison between two politicians or a general favorability rating. But this type of surveying fails to take into account a host of other types of data, such as sentiment regarding a candidate’s specific core values, important issues or policies involving a candidate, and much more. Social media is a vast trove of unsolicited consumer opinion that can be utilized in a myriad of ways, especially in relation to political campaigns and candidates. While political polls require some type of clear participation, social media posts are sourced from unsolicited consumer opinion typically built without prompted questions, and are therefore much more valuable as a result.
In this case, social media can help us examine the fallout from Kevin McCarthy’s comments on the Benghazi committee and Hillary’s poll numbers. Excluding talk about the Democratic debate that took place on October 13, since McCarthy’s comments both conversation about the Benghazi scandal and the email scandal have increased. The sentiment of those conversations though, has been defensive and supportive of Hillary, and has shown growth since the inflammatory statement.
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Not only were Kevin McCarthy’s original claims mostly untrue, but his blunder actually helped Clinton when it comes to public appeal. He helped paint Hillary in an innocent light by making the Benghazi committee seem like a ruse to sabotage her, and further solidified the idea that the Republican Party is trying to propagandize the tragedy at Benghazi.

In addition, the gaffe has provided the Clinton campaign with reason to openly criticize the GOP in an attempt to strengthen their position and garner even more public support. This foray continues to make its way into the news and further convolute the world of politics, but one thing remains constant: the public will continue to voice their opinions and viewpoints over social media and provide analysts with invaluable data. Social media is the key to understanding how an audience feels without using prompts or polls, and obtaining unsolicited truthful opinions on a topic.
This point can be further proven by the continuing discussion surrounding Clinton in recent days, particularly during her testimony to the committee this past Thursday. Organic conversation surrounding Clinton and the Benghazi issue plateaued during the week after the Democratic debate, with post volume dipping low and net sentiment actually remaining the same throughout the week. Social media discussion picked back up directly after this time, on the day of Clinton’s testimony to the Benghazi committee. On that day, daily post volume nearly quadruples in relation to the previous amount, and there is an enormous shift in sentiment favoring Hillary. Positive posts grow by 7%, topping out at 64%, with negative posts falling to 36% of the total posts for that day. Similar to after the debate, in the days following the testimony, volume drops back down to average levels, and sentiment stays largely the same, with only a small 1% fluctuation in the negative direction.   testimony time period Political supporters and naysayers must speak their minds, and their feelings are most easily and accurately measured when they do so without restraint. Social data shows that the vast amount of resources pumped into the Benghazi committee and investigation have only served to strengthen Hillary’s position as more and more people support her over social media throughout the controversy. Kevin McCarthy’s comments about Hillary’s declining poll numbers were inherently false, and actually ended up helping her by boosting public sentiment, continuing to support her place as the Democratic primary frontrunner.
The value of social media analytics through audience insights is enormous. In our society, where traditional market research and focus groups are becoming less effective, social media insights can help create foundational research where other methodologies are falling short. Political polling gives a good idea of where the public may stand on a candidate, but it’s incapable of telling the whole story, and this is exactly where social media data shines; when it’s necessary to build a deeper, more holistic understanding of the audience in question.
If you’d like to learn more about social media analytics and its uses for audience analysis in today’s changing marketing environment, check out Millennials Killed The Focus Group. Social Saved It.

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