During debate, Ron Paul’s quotes percolated most on Twitter: A Signal analysis

For all the comedians on Twitter, one of the most popular social media pastimes during GOP debates is to simply to retweet the candidates, so to speak, by posting their best quotes. When Newt Gingrich quipped that "I am inclined to believe dictators. It is dangerous not to," thousands of people tweeted the quote, often without any added commentary.

To measure which quotes resonated the most on Twitter, we analyzed more than 170,000 tweets sent during the event. In addition to identifying highly retweeted candidate quotes, we test drove our beta "sentiment score" algorithms under development at Yahoo! Labs to identify positive and negative tweets mentioning candidates' names. Mixed positive and negative tweets are indicative of "controversies." Here's what we found:

Ron Paul, a known favorite among social media mavens on all platforms, was the most retweeted speaker of the night. Twitter reacted strongly when he talked about birth control pills: "Guns don't kill, criminals kill," he said. Ergo, birth control pills "can't be blamed for the immorality of our society." The reaction to this statement scored highly on our controversy score, as supporting tweets were accompanied by the tweets of users who hastily disapproved.

However, Paul found most favor with Twitter users for his "Planned Parenthood should get nothing" remark, his most retweeted quote and one followed by a spike in positive sentiment.

As mentioned, Newt Gingrich's most retweeted quote was: "I am inclined to believe dictators. It is dangerous not to," which he unleashed during his discussion of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reaction on Twitter was not favorable — according to our sentiment model, Gingrich reached his highest negative sentiment peak in second half of the debate right after this remark.

The reaction to Mitt Romney suggested he should show more of his lighter side, which heavy retweeting of "Like George Costanza said, when they are applauding, stop." He also got attention for his final talking point, telling the moderators that "You get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want." Unlike the Seinfeld reference, which is followed by a positive sentiment increase, this quote is shortly followed by one of the two highest negative sentiment spikes registered for Romney. The other spike (close in magnitude) occurred during an exchange on "Romney care."

Finally, Rick Santorum's most retweeted remarks dealt with education, when he explained his reasoning for having supported the educational reform bill known as No Child Left Behind. When the audience booed, he commented: "Politics is a team sport folks." He then added: "I'm a home-schooling father of seven, I know the importance of customized education."


Ron Paul: "Planned Parenthood should get nothing"

Ron Paul: "The [birth control] pills can't be blamed for the immorality of our society"

Newt Gingrich: "I am inclined to believe dictators"

Mitt Romney: "You get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want".

Ron Paul: "Guns don't kill, criminals kill"

Rick Santorum: "Politics is a team sport folks!"

Credits: Raw closed caption data — IntoNow (Yahoo), Ajay Shekhawat (Yahoo Labs), Ajeet Grewal (Yahoo Content Science team)