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Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Biden pummeled for his gaffes

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Articles about Joe Biden generated 3.8 million interactions on social media last week — more than that of any other candidate since June — but they were overwhelmingly on stories about his recent blunders. according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: While Biden's congressional record and moderate credentials are baked into his candidacy — and may be working to his benefit — his recurrent gaffes could invite questions about his mental acuity and fitness for office.

  • "Biden has clearly survived the first few waves of attacks on his candidacy," Democratic strategist Ian Russell tells Axios. "The next and biggest challenge for him is, do Democrats get nervous and do they shop around for someone else?"

Driving the news: Biden stumbled through the kickoff of the Iowa State Fair with a quintet of news-making mistakes:

By the numbers:

  • Among the 100 stories about Biden that generated the most interactions (retweets, likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter last week, 67% of those interactions (1.78 million) were on stories about his gaffes.
  • The 1.78M interactions over the gaffes alone were higher than the interactions on the coverage of all of Biden's 2020 rivals except Beto O'Rourke last week.

Between the lines: In a race where differences among candidates have largely been subjective and a matter of personal politics, these mistakes represent unmistakable blemishes that can be exploited by opponents and relayed to voters across the political spectrum.


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.