in Data & Insights

Planned Parenthood, Muslims, and Border Walls: Who Really Cares About Presidential Debate Topics

By Lauren Young, Data Insights Research Manager and Hui Wang, Modeling Scientist

For voter engagement, outrage trumps support

As Democrats consolidate support behind Clinton, the GOP is trying to come to terms with Trump as their candidate, revealing deep divisions within the party. At the heart of the Republican Party’s challenge is Trump’s electability in the general election and how his image conflicts with Republicans’ vision for the future of their party. Since entering the race, Trump has been a fount of controversial statements, but despite conventional wisdom, these have done nothing more than increase his support, leading some to nickname him Teflon Trump.

Using our visibility into online consumer behavior, we examined who is engaging most with Trump’s controversial statements as well as other hot topics such as Clinton’s emails.

Using Quantcast Measure, we analyzed people’s search behavior and then broke it down along demographic and political lines.

We found not all controversy is equally interesting to voters, and Independents, the largest block of the voting public, really haven’t been interested in these “red meat” topics at all. In fact, these topics seem to generate the greatest interest among blocs that are opposed to them.

Mexico Wall: Trump has promised to build “the greatest wall you’ve ever seen” to stop people and drugs from crossing the Mexico border. Fun fact: John Oliver systematically broke down why this solution won’t work. Search terms included in the study: Mexico wall, Mexico border and Mexico/Trump



  •       The Mexico wall garnered significantly higher Democratic engagement than other political parties
  •       Hispanic Democrats are the most highly engaged, followed by white Democrats and other minorities
  •       The wall engaged 35- to 54-year-old Democrats and a slightly older Republican age bracket, 45- to 64-year-olds

Defund Planned Parenthood (PP): The pro-choice/pro-life debate is an election cornerstone; a push to defund PP intensified when videos were released of PP employees allegedly discussing sales of fetal tissue along with scrutiny over the Texas Supreme Court case. Search terms included in the study: Planned Parenthood funding and government involvement

Planned Parenthood


  •       Defunding Planned Parenthood is strongly felt by opposing parties, but not Independents
  •       Despite being a “women’s issue,” Republican white men were the most engaged with this topic, followed by Democratic white women
  •       35- to 64-year-old Democrats and 45+ year-old Republicans are most interested

Deport Muslims: After the San Bernardino attacks, Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. In recent months he has continued to advocate to close mosques and create a database of US Muslims, most recently claiming Islam hates us. Search terms included in the study: Muslim ban, close mosques, deport Muslim, Muslim/Trump



  •       Deporting Muslims brought significantly higher Democrat engagement than other political parties
  •       Democrat Blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics and other minorities all show significant interest
  •       Deporting Muslims captures the most youth interest – Democrats aged 25 to 44 are highly engaged

Clinton Emails: Use of a personal email account during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State has led to monthly public releases of her unclassified emails and questions around why she used a private server. Search terms included in the study: Clinton email



  •       The Clinton email issue is strongly felt by opposing parties – Republicans and Democrats, but not Independents
  •       Significantly more men than women engage with this issue across both parties
  •       The email issue attracts the oldest audience, with the greatest interest from Democrats 45- to 64-years-old and Republicans aged 45+ years old


Despite Independents being the most active group online in searching for information about presidential candidates, they are the voters least interested in these controversial issues. Of the issues we investigated, Black Lives Matter was the only issue to somewhat engage Independents.

Political campaign managers and marketers from both sides should take note: using these types of issues to garner attention from Independents in the general election may not be effective.

Planned Parenthood and Clinton email topics generated heavy engagement from both Republicans and Democrats and appear to be effective in rallying certain demographics of each party’s base.

Trump’s controversial statements on the Mexico wall and ban on Muslims also led to significant engagement and likely outrage from Democrats, especially younger and minority members, but got far less Republican interest.

The data shows that not all controversies are created equal, and political marketers should consider how these and similar issues can be used to rally their respective bases – just don’t expect Independents to care.

About Quantcast

Quantcast has one of the world’s most-sophisticated data-intelligence platforms, using big data and machine learning to solve the biggest challenges in marketing. Quantcast Measure is used by leading publishers for free audience measurement, including demographic and lifestyle insights powered by Quantcast Audience GridQuantcast Advertise is a leading programmatic advertising solution for reaching and influencing targeted audiences. Learn more at