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Kennedy School Review

Topic / Politics

Third Republican Debate by the Numbers


Last night, GOP presidential candidates took to the stage for the third Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election season.

This debate was the first Republican debate since the Democratic candidates made their first appearance on the debate stage just over two weeks ago, on Oct. 13. Moderators and candidates in both debates overlapped on some subjects. Candidates from both parties mentioned ISIS the same number of times, and the economy was a major focus of conversation during both debates. But for every issue that overlapped in terms of how often candidates mentioned it, there were more issues on which the debates diverged.

Democratic candidates, for instance, mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement, incarceration, climate change, healthcare, and the middle class much more than their Republican counterparts. Republican candidates, on the other hand, mentioned taxes, the budget, and Social Security much more often than the Democrats.

Below is a visualization of how the debate topics compared between the most recent Democratic and Republican debates, based on the number of times candidates spoke about a given subject.

This data shows us a combination of what candidates felt was most important to bring up in their responses, but it is also largely a reflection of what moderators thought was most important to ask candidates.

Included in the count is each time a candidate mentioned a certain subject in a separate answer. Moderators have an outsize influence over what is discussed, but this graph visualizes candidates’ responses to moderators’ questions.



Lauren Leatherby is a second-year master’s student at the Kennedy School, where she concentrates in International and Global Affairs and serves as digital managing editor for the Kennedy School Review. Prior to coming to the Kennedy School, she had varied work experience in the energy, journalism, and nonprofit sectors.



Photo by Peter Stevens via Flickr