It seems pretty likely that a lot of people flipped on their televisions Sunday night to watch the Democrats debate. Not first-Republican-debate numbers, but a lot of people. (As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed out on Twitter, Sunday evenings are a popular time for TV.) There was a lot of interest in (two of) the Democratic candidates on Google, with Bernie Sanders receiving more search interest than his competitors.
There was a lot of activity for Hillary Clinton, too. All three candidates (the third being Martin O'Malley, who introduced himself by name when he started speaking) easily outpaced GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s search traffic as the night wore on.
But there’s a dark side to this for Clinton, beyond her competitor driving more curiosity.
Google put together a list of the trending questions for each candidate. Sanders’s questions were pretty positive. “Why is Bernie Sanders so popular?” “Can Bernie Sanders win?” O'Malley’s, only slightly less so. “Why is Martin O'Malley running?” “Is Martin O'Malley still running for president?” (I’m not sure what kind of person tunes into a debate and sees a candidate talking and wonders if he is still running for president, but so be it.)
Then there were Clinton’s trending questions. “Will Hillary Clinton get prosecuted?,” people wanted to know. And: “What did Hillary Clinton do that is illegal?”
Republicans – particularly the Republican front-runner – have implied or outright stated that Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state was a violation of the law. The FBI is investigating the situation, which is part of the reason that Republicans feel comfortable embracing the worst-case scenario. (During the Republican debate earlier this week, Jeb Bush got off one of the only good jokes he’s had all year: “If (Clinton) gets elected, her first 100 days, instead of setting an agenda, she might be going back and forth between the White House and the courthouse. We need to stop that.”)
The answer to the questions on Google, of course, are “probably not” and “probably nothing” – but we'll see where the investigation leads.
On Facebook, another wrinkle. The Post’s Rebecca Sinderbrand noted on Twitter that the topics being discussed on Facebook during the two parties’ debates varied greatly.
The top five topics during the Republican debate: 1. Iran 2. Immigration 3. ISIS 4. The economy 5. Guns
The top five during the Democratic one? 1. Wall Street 2. Medicare 3. Benghazi 4. Crime and criminal justice 5. Climate change
Notice what stands out there: No. 3, Benghazi, the subject of one of the biggest movies in the country right now. The terror attacks in Libya in 2012 didn’t come up during the Democratic debate as a topic, so it’s safe to assume that Republicans opposed to Clinton were talking about the incident as Clinton was debating.
Bernie Sanders has taken to arguing that he has an electoral advantage versus Clinton in the general. That argument is a little soft. But for as much as people are focused on Sanders’s unusual politics, it’s clear that there’s a much bigger undercurrent of hostility to Clinton, which certainly won’t be helpful if she’s the party’s nominee.