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Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Readers tune out

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Interest in the 2020 Democratic primary plunged last week as articles about the candidates generated just 6.5 million combined social media interactions — the fewest since mid-January, according to data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios. Articles about President Trump generated 23.2 million interactions.

Why it matters: It's a reminder of the president's stranglehold on the public interest. He's capable of single-handedly steering the news cycle, as he did with his attacks on Democratic congresswomen.

Between the lines: The numbers also indicate that 2020 Democrats lack a lightning rod media sensation who can drive the conversation like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (4.8 million interactions).

  • Democratic challengers will have to decide whether to mix it up to steal some of the limelight or stay above the fray.

What's happening: The Democratic field lacked storylines that found a foothold last week.

  • The biggest story about a candidate was on Kamala Harris' proposal to require rent, utilities and cellphone bill payments to be incorporated into credit scores as part of her policy for addressing the black homeownership gap. (MarketWatch, 208k interactions)

What people were reading with their attention off of the 2020 race:

  • Trump's tweets attacking progressive House Democrats of color.
  • The mounting case against Jeffrey Epstein.
  • The pressure against and subsequent resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.
  • Megan Rapinoe's speech at the World Cup championship parade.
  • Nancy Pelosi vs. freshmen House Democrats.
  • U.S. budget deficit up 23%, Treasury requests increased debt ceiling.

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.

Why this tracker matters: The data on interactions — including likes, comments and shares — highlights an important, but underappreciated element of an election: the ability to see beyond our own social feeds and understand the broader universe playing out of how candidates and issues are moving the minds of voters.

  1. It measures enthusiasm in a way that traditional polling does not.
  2. The sample size taken from these social media platforms is massive.
  3. Social media is powered by emotion-driven content, and emotional responses are likely to be aligned with a voter's true beliefs in a way that can be masked in polling.

While the volume of interactions does not gauge the sentiment of the reactions, the ability to generate reach allows a candidate to expand the universe of potential voters.

  • Bots also cannot be ignored, and we will point out in this space if there are documented instances of bot activity for certain candidates or issues.

Methodology: This project measures the number of social media interactions generated on stories published about the 2020 candidates and issues.

  • Interactions are calculated from reactions, comments and shares on those stories on Facebook as well as the number of shares from more than 300,000 influential Twitter accounts and retweets and likes on those posts.
  • Tracked published stories come from a defined universe of more than 450,000 domains.
  • A story registers for a candidate or issue if the keyword is mentioned in the headline, summary or URL of the story.
    • Our search format for candidates looks like: "Joe Biden" OR ("Biden" AND ("President" OR "2020" OR "election" OR "Democrats" OR "primary")).
    • For issues, we use a keyword tree for related terms.

Past editions of the tracker: