Emotion AI Reveals Which U.S. Democratic Candidate is Resonating Best with Voters

Ahead of the third U.S. Democratic Primary Debate, a new study from AI company Realeyes measures viewers’ reactions to videos of candidates Senator Kamala Harris and Former V.P. Joe Biden 

With the third U.S. Democratic Debate taking place later today (Thursday, September 12), the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election is top of mind for many across America 

Tonight’s debate promises to be a heated affair, with candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, and Former Vice President (V.P.) Joe Biden already clashing several times during the first two debates.  

This inspired Realeyes to conduct a study using its emotion and attention measurement AI solution to measure viewers’ responses to two video clips from previous debates. To delve a little deeper, Realeyes also asked respondents a series of survey questions.  

The clips tested featured Sen. Harris  and Former V.P. Biden debating two topics – healthcare and Biden’s voting record on desegregation busing ("busing” was the act of transporting students to schools within or outside their local school districts to rectify racial segregation) 

The Heated Exchange on Health Care

HubSpot Video


The Heated Exchange on Race

HubSpot Video




We entered the research with a lot of questions…  

Which candidate was more engaging?  

Which moments evoked the strongest emotional response?  

Which debate lines were most effective? 

How was the perception of the candidates altered by these debate exchanges?  

Did viewers’ emotional responses align with their survey responses?  

Let’s find out.  




Before we plough into the results, how did we compile the data?  

Using Realeyes’ facial-recognition Emotion AI, which uses webcams to enable mobile devices and laptops to measure consumers’ emotions and attention levels, we analyzed the responses of 300 U.S. viewers to both videos.  

We also asked participants to give their thoughts about the videos and used AI to score the overall sentiment of their open-ended comments using sentiment analysis. Finally, we asked a series of survey questions.  

Here’s what was discovered.  



Audience is most engaged when Sen. Harris speaks  

 The highest peaks in emotional engagement occur when Sen. Harris is speaking. This is the case for both video clips tested. 

The chart below depicts the trends in positive and negative emotion for the Race/Busing video. 




It is not surprising - given the topic and tenor of the discussion - to see negative emotions dominate throughout. Peaks in negative emotions occur at moments where the discussion is especially heated or where the detail might be confusing.  

Peaks in happiness, on the other hand, occur when Sen. Harris concludes the points of her argument and the audience is heard cheering in the background.  

For example, Sen. Harris generates a lot of positive emotion from the audience when she mentions her work in requiring officers in California to wear body cameras; “I was very proud to put in place a requirement that all my special agents would wear body cameras and keep those cameras on.” 

Positive emotions also peak when Sen. Harris passionately describes her views on equal rights improvements in the U.S.: “That’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the voting rights act and the civil rights act. That’s why we need to pass the equality act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). Because there are moments in history when states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.”  



The positive emotional responses from the audience are reiterated in their remembered experiences (open-ended responses) immediately after viewing the video: 

  • “I think both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris did well in this video. However, Kamala seems to be a stronger speaker and more passionate about what she is talking about.” 
  • “Good Argument. She is right. I like her style.” 
  • “Kamala Harris makes a lot of sense when she talks. Kamala Harris knows what she's talking about. she's experienced.” 
  • “I would not like to be an attorney battling Harris in a courtroom. She is a passionate speaker.” 


Significantly higher voter intention lift for Sen. Harris after watching the debate clips, leaving Biden in the negative  

We asked participants to rate their attitude towards the featured candidates before and after the videos were shown.    

Sen. Harris saw a +15.6% rating increase after viewers saw the videos, while former V.P. Biden saw a -22.1% decrease. In other words, the audience had an improved view of Sen. Harris (and a diminished view of V.P. Biden) after watching the clips. Sen. Harris won the exchanges.   


More Emotion and Attention evoked by Busing video than Healthcare 

For each video we surveyed 300 participants between the ages of 18 and 69 in the United States, and the audience was more emotionally engaged by the busing video than healthcare.   




Viewers’ attention levels were also a lot higher during the busing video.  

However, when participants were asked to rank which political issues are most important to them, “healthcare” ranked number one, followed closely by “gun control” and “equal rights.”   


A slight contradiction perhaps, but one which suggests that the deeply personal perspective that Harris brought to the busing exchange had a profound emotional resonance that the healthcare exchange could not match (despite the importance of the issue).  


Sentiment also more intense and polarized for Busing video 

The busing video also prompted more positive and negative sentiment than healthcare, across all demographics, with fewer viewers reporting a neutral impression.  


Stay tuned for more insight from the Realeyes team! We’ll be keeping a keen eye on upcoming debates and campaign advertising.   

Interested in learning more about our research solutions? Give us a shout, and we’re more than happy to discuss how Realeyes can help!   

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