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Data: NewsWhip; Note: Values represent the sum of Facebook interactions and Twitter Influencer Shares; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Sen. Kamala Harris of California is leading the field of Democratic presidential candidates in capturing the public's attention during the opening wave of the 2020 campaign.

Why it matters: That puts Harris in a strong position to help set the Democratic primary agenda, much as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing for the House Democratic agenda.

The numbers from the past three months (Nov. 12–Feb. 12) say it all:

On Google, Harris was searched twice as often as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who were next closest, according to Google Trends.

Instagram interactions, according to CrowdTangle:

  1. Harris: 8.3 million
  2. Sanders: 4.6 million
  3. Warren: 2 million

Twitter interactions, according to CrowdTangle (combining Senate and personal accounts):

  1. Harris: 14.4 million
  2. Sanders: 8 million
  3. Warren: 4.1 million

The exception is Facebook, where Sanders gets much of his clout, according to CrowdTangle (combining Senate and personal accounts):

  1. Sanders: 22.1 million
  2. Harris: 2.4 million
  3. Warren: 2.3 million

In the past three months, articles about Harris have generated 16.5 million interactions on Facebook and from shares on influential Twitter accounts, according to social media analytics company NewsWhip.

  • That compares with 14.2 million for Warren and 10.6 million for Sanders.

Harris' follower growth across those platforms during the past three months has been striking:

  • On Facebook, her main account has added 123,000 fans, per CrowdTangle. The next closest jump among 2020 competitors is Beto O'Rourke with 51,000.
  • On Instagram, Harris has added 613,000 followers. The next closest spikes came from O'Rourke and Warren with 200,000 followers added.
  • On Twitter, she has added 420,000 followers. Next closest is O'Rourke with 245,000.

The big picture: The size of the major social media platforms makes for a useful barometer of public opinion and interest. They also signal a level of enthusiasm that is difficult to capture with traditional polling.

Yes, but: Early polling indicates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders have the highest favorables among 2020 Democrats. But, this early in the cycle, those numbers are often just a sign of name recognition.

  • Having already announced — or formed exploratory committees — Harris, Warren, and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar have benefited from announcement-driven spikes of interest. The others can expect that when it's their time — but Harris has dominated the attention well beyond her initial announcement.

The bottom line: President Trump showed in the 2016 campaign that the ability to generate attention and make the public care about you is a precious commodity. Maintaining that edge, more than fundraising totals or a ground game, could be the key for Harris in 2020.

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