One Way Jon Stewart's Rally Is Already Working

Exclusive social media analysis shows subdued chatter around Saturday's event. But then, that's sort of the point.

October 29, 2010 11:39 PM ET

In the hours after Saturday’s Rally to Restore Sanity, the fancy aerial analysis firm that CBS News has retained will release its scientific estimate of how many people turned out, and we’ll know whether Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert bested the 87,000 Glenn Beck drew to the National Mall in August. But there’s another way to measure the respective reactions to the entertainers’ respective events. And what it shows – or at least what it can be interpreted to show – is that the Rally to Restore Sanity is already working.

The analysis was performed at Rolling Stone’s request by Cambridge, Massachusetts firm Crimson Hexagon, which uses technology developed at Harvard to sift through the great online din and identify concrete patterns and trends – think of it as opinion polling for the 21st century. It’s very cool stuff, and is now being used by media outlets like CNN and The Wall Street Journal. In our case, we asked Crimson Hexagon to set up a monitor for social media chatter on Facebook and Twitter for the days leading up to the Beck and Stewart rallies, to compare what the Hive Mind, as John Hodgman likes to call it, thinks about the events.

And what it thinks, in short, is that it likes the Rally to Restore Sanity more than it did the Restoring Honor Rally. Here’s the breakdown:

Beck Rally: 40% negative, 16% positive, 44% neutral

Stewart Rally: 14% negative, 48% positive, 39% neutral

Interestingly, though, when it comes to which event sparked the bigger reaction, period, the results were reversed. Four days before the rallies, each generated a nearly identical number of tweets. But as the Beck rally drew closer, the strong feelings toward it fueled a big surge in Twitter activity that hasn’t been matched for the Stewart rally, to the point where the Beck event was generating nearly four times the buzz (again, predominately negative) than what the Stewart event did this Friday.

The folks at Crimson Hexagon call this a “passion gap.” (Maybe because they’re so sick of hearing about the “enthusiasm gap” between Republican and Democratic voters this midterm election?) Of course, if you are looking to restore sanity to America’s civic life, a passion gap is actually a good thing -- it’s cooler heads prevailing, and all that. The comparatively subdued reaction to Stewart’s reasonableness fest can be seen as people behaving the way he hopes they will. Some Democratic leaders just hope all the magnanimity dissipates by Tuesday, and that voters who were among those so worked up by Beck’s rally are again agitated enough to go to the polls.

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