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:
- Harris: 8.3 million
- Sanders: 4.6 million
- Warren: 2 million
Twitter interactions, according to CrowdTangle (combining Senate and personal accounts):
- Harris: 14.4 million
- Sanders: 8 million
- Warren: 4.1 million
The exception is Facebook, where Sanders gets much of his clout, according to CrowdTangle (combining Senate and personal accounts):
- Sanders: 22.1 million
- Harris: 2.4 million
- 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.