Microsoft's live-stream of Thursday's vice presidential debate on the Xbox gaming platform attracted at least 30,000 participants in a real-time poll on the performances of Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. The raw numbers aren't available but Microsoft did release results keyed to viewers who have declared for a candidate and for a group it describes as "Xbox Swing Voters."
Biden won over the Xbox swing voters, with 44.1 percent of undecided voters giving him the victory, compared to 22.9 percent saying Ryan won. This group saw Biden as projecting more presidential mettle, with 53.7% saying Biden is more capable of assuming the presidency than Ryan. Only 21% favored Ryan over Biden. Biden was also cited as being more truthful than Ryan.
The results among viewers who support a given candidate reveal an interesting tilt in the direction of a Biden victory. Among those who describe themselves as "leaning Romney," 20.4 percent said that they aren't sure who won the debate, while 11 percent of those who are "strong Romney" supporters couldn't pick a winner. By comparison, just 3.8 percent of strong Obama supporters and 13 percent of those leaning toward Obama said the debate was a tossup.
The Xbox audience is an interesting resource for real time response to the debates, with numbers that far outstrip, say the dial groups whose responses are tracked live on CNN. However, the results must be taken with a grain of salt, in that audiences are overwhelmingly male, affluent, and white. Plus, it's possible Xbox owners are only participating to win a set of virtual armor for their Halo 4 Warrior game character.
Twitter's indicators don't point as clearly to a winner, but the network's political index number purports to measure "the sentiment of Twitter users' feelings about the candidates." A daily number is published for the presidential candidates, and the vice presidential candidates got a special look for the debate.
Biden saw his "Twindex" number rise from 64 to 67 during the debate. Ryan managed just a one-point nudge from 46 to 47. To put this in some context, Obama's number stood unchanged at 26 after the debate. His average since May 1 is 33, indicating that favorable sentiment is on the decline. Romney's number stood firm at 20, down from an average of 28 since May 1. The calculations that produce the number are not a matter of record, but it seems probable that Biden and Ryan maintain higher rankings than the president and his challenger because there is less volume of negative sentiment directed their way.
Overall, the vice presidential debate generated 3.5 million tweets -- a large number when compared to the convention speeches, but fewer than the 10.3 million tweets during the October 3 presidential debate. The busiest section in terms of tweets-per-minute came when Biden delivered his ""Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy?" barb, with 58,275 tweets-per-minute. Ryan's zinger about "turning Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare" generated 55,540 tweets-per-minute.
What's clear is that Twitter is increasingly taking a starring role in molding opinion and shaping narratives about the debates in real time. For example, when President Gerald Ford denied that the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe in a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, it took about two days for that line to harden into a memorable gaffe, Presidential historian Michael Beschloss noted in a post-debate segment on PBS. "But, nowadays, you wouldn't have to wait the 48 hours, because, with Twitter, instantly, a lot of people would have known that that was a very bad thing to say."