Jul 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

2020 attention tracker: The Trump policy trap

Data: Newswhip; Graphic: Axios Visuals — Note: Hover over the graphic on desktop to see weekly articles and interactions for candidates and issues.
Data: Newswhip; Graphic: Axios Visuals — Note: Hover over the graphic on desktop to see weekly articles and interactions for candidates and issues.

The three topics generating the most intense interest online are the coronavirus, racial injustice and foreign policy, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios — and all are issues that are working against President Trump right now.

Why it matters: Storylines in Trump's populist sweet spot that carried the news cycle for much of his presidency — immigration, trade, a strong economy — have fallen away during the pandemic.

  • On the coronavirus, Trump's hopes for a swift return to normal have been thwarted by a ferocious surge of cases across the country. His defiance of public health guidance — from hosting a rally in Tulsa to dismissing the importance of mask wearing — have backfired as other Republicans are increasingly promoting a more cautious approach.
  • On race, Trump finds himself fighting against the current on public opinion as he stresses "law and order" rather than empathy in the wake of the George Floyd protests. 36% approve of the way he is handling race relations, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. By 22 percentage points, voters say Joe Biden would do a better job on the issue.
  • On foreign relations, Trump continues to be criticized for not acting against Russia over reported intelligence that it offered bounties to the Taliban to kill coalition troops in Afghanistan. The single Trump story with the most social media interactions (likes, comments, shares) last week was Iran issuing a warrant for Trump's arrest over the January killing of Qasem Soleimani.

Between the lines: The topics in Trump's wheelhouse that dominated headlines for much of his presidency have either begun to work against him or become irrelevant during the pandemic.

  • Economy: Recent outbreaks of the virus have diminished hope of a sharp V-shaped recovery, and economic pain may still be widespread come Nov. 3. One bright spot for Trump: he still has a slight edge over Biden in Americans' confidence on the economy — one of the only issues where that's still true.
  • Immigration: An issue that ranked No. 1 on social media for much of 2019, and has been a big motivator for Trump's base, is now far down on the list of issues salient in voters' minds as new visa issues have nearly disappeared during the pandemic.

The bottom line: Though Trump stories continue to attract more attention on social media than Biden — and many times over — those stories have been damaging and have been accompanied by cratering polling.

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.

See all past editions of the tracker here.

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