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Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Warren bets the White House on Medicare for All

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios - Note: Hover over the weekly rank on desktop to see articles and interactions for each candidate and issue.

Elizabeth Warren, who rose to the top with big liberal bets, is banking a big slice of her presidential run on full-throated support for Medicare for All. 

Why it matters: Warren is taking a beating on social media after claiming middle class Americans won’t pay higher taxes to fund health care coverage fully paid for by taxpayers, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios. At the same time, her poll numbers nationally are slipping. 

The bigger picture: Numerous prominent Democrats have told us Trump will feast on Warren’s plan to eliminate private insurance to force everyone onto Medicare. They worry she has no wiggle room to backtrack if she wins the nomination because her entire reputation is wrapped around not buckling on big debates like health care. 

By the numbers: Of the 50 biggest stories over the last two weeks about Elizabeth Warren's plan to pay for Medicare for All, 70% were negative, according to NewsWhip data.

  • Criticism around how to pay for the plan has been accompanied by a rapid descent in the polls. After briefly overtaking Joe Biden atop the 2020 Democratic polling average on Oct. 8, Warren has tumbled and now trails Biden by 7.2 points.

Between the lines: The blowback against Warren is a natural consequence of her emergence as a top threat in the race, illustrated by the incoming she faced in the October debate.

  • It is a reversal of a trend we saw in the summer, in which Warren was the beneficiary of glowing stories and subsequently climbed in polling.
  • The criticism picked up following the debate after she danced around questions of whether the plan would require a middle-class tax hike.

Between the lines: While not explicitly about Warren, a Yahoo Finance article from late October that calculates the taxes necessary to pay for Medicare for All was the biggest article associated with Warren in 2019 on social media with 820k interactions (likes, comments, shares).

  • According to NewsWhip data, the criticism picked up steam in the wake of her announcement of how to pay for the plan, which requires an additional $20.5 trillion of federal spending.

The top negative stories in the last two weeks:

  1. The Democratic plan for a 42% national sales tax (Yahoo) — 820k interactions
  2. Warren agrees Medicare-for-All could result in two million jobs lost: 'This is part of the cost issue' (Fox News) — 43k
  3. Warren says health insurance workers laid off under 'Medicare-for-all' can work in auto, life insurance (Fox News) — 42k
  4. Elizabeth Warren Says Massive Job Loss Is Part of the Cost of Medicare-For-All (IJR) — 40k
  5. Elizabeth Warren Wants To Pay for Medicare for All With a $9 Trillion Tax That Will Hit the Middle Class (Reason) — 40k

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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 under-appreciated 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.

See past editions of the tracker here.