Updated Feb 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Sanders snatches attention lead from Biden ahead of Iowa

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

In the homestretch before Iowa votes on Monday, Bernie Sanders has overtaken Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic candidate getting the most attention online, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: Biden had led for the 17 weeks prior, and the numbers show that at the most important moment of the primary to date, Sanders' profile is peaking, accompanied by climbing poll numbers.

Between the lines: For much of the primary, most positive sentiment around Biden online has been around stories that point to his ability to beat Trump.

By the numbers: Stories about Sanders have generated more interactions on social media (likes, comments, shares) than stories about Biden over each of the last three weeks, totaling 20.1 million interactions to Biden's 14.2 million.

  • When Biden held the top spot, part of his lead could be attributed to his role in the saga that led to Trump's impeachment.
  • During that period, Sanders has eaten into Biden's national polling lead, narrowing a 10-point deficit to 5 percentage points, per the RealClearPolitics average. And he has taken a slight lead in Iowa, per FiveThirtyEight.

Yes, but: The interest online hasn't pushed Sanders past Biden in TV coverage. On cable news this month, Biden has been mentioned 9.3k times to Sanders' 7.4k, according to the the Internet Archive Television News Archive.

  • Sanders does hold an edge on network evening news telecasts, with 195 mentions to Biden's 157.

The big picture: The interactions numbers speak to a level of grassroots enthusiasm that often can't be fully captured by polling.

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1 of 2016, Trump generated 62% more interactions than Hillary Clinton, despite consistently trailing in the polls.

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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.

Go deeper

Sanders snatches attention lead from Biden ahead of Iowa

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

In the homestretch before Iowa votes on Monday, Bernie Sanders has overtaken Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic candidate getting the most attention online, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: Biden had led for the 17 weeks prior, and the numbers show that at the most important moment of the primary to date, Sanders' profile is peaking, accompanied by climbing poll numbers.

Poll: Joe Biden loses status as most electable Democrat

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The share of Democratic primary voters who believe Joe Biden has the best chance out of any 2020 candidate to beat President Trump has dropped to 17%, down 12 points since the New Hampshire primary, according to a Morning Consult national poll.

Why it matters: Biden's electability pitch is widely considered his core appeal as a candidate.

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Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Axios Visuals

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna became one of the most talked-about news events of the social media era, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: More people have engaged with the story over the past week than nearly every other major news story combined — illustrating that what breaks through in a saturated, splintered media landscape is unexpected, emotional news.