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Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Dominant storyline for each candidate

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders' plans for student debt cancellation have by far generated the most online attention from among policies proposed by 2020 Democratic candidates, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: Each candidate is vying to separate themselves from a crowded field with bold, new ideas. This data shows which have captivated readers, as well the ideas being associated with top-tier candidates — a key insight into how the average voter might view the candidates.

By the numbers: The list below identifies the policy stance or storyline that has resulted in the most combined interactions for articles written about the top 8 Democratic candidates, according to an analysis of the 50 biggest stories for each hopeful since March 1.

  • Interactions include reactions, comments and shares on Facebook and likes and retweets on Twitter.
  • The candidates are ranked by polling and linked items direct to the top story on that topic. The interactions number represents the combined total for those stories.
  1. Joe Biden — Strong polling numbers vs. Trump — 993k interactions
  2. Elizabeth Warren — Student debt cancellation and tuition-free college plan — 2.0 million
  3. Bernie Sanders — Student debt cancellation — 1.7 million
  4. Kamala Harris — Black homeownership plan — 522k
  5. Pete Buttigieg — Attacks on the religious right — 1.1 million
  6. Andrew Yang — Universal basic income — 140k
  7. Beto O'Rourke — Pro-choice stance on abortion (largely used as an attack by conservative media) — 404k
  8. Cory Booker — Gun control plan, attacks on NRA — 1.1 million

Between the lines: The short attention spans of media consumers mean that policies that resonate and catch like wildfire must be concrete and easy to grasp, without requiring much grounding in policy, which is often necessary for understanding health care and climate change plans.

  • The simplicity of canceling student debt may be the key driver behind its reach.
  • The same can be said for Donald Trump's border wall and Muslim ban during the 2016 campaign.

The other side: In the case of O'Rourke, the lack of a distinctive policy stance that has found footing has led to lackluster enthusiasm and has resulted in being defined by a message not of his own making.

Our 2020 attention tracker is based on data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios as part of a project that will regularly update throughout the 2020 campaign.