Sep 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Afghanistan overwhelms online

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Axios Visuals

As natural disasters ravaged the country and Texas enacted lightning-rod abortion restrictions, Afghanistan still held the vast share of online attention last week, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.

Why it matters: Democrats are banking on the Afghanistan chaos having little impact on the 2022 midterms. But the data, which comes as Biden's approval rating slid underwater, shows the potential potency of a story unfolding thousands of miles away.

By the numbers: Afghanistan stories generated 6.5 times more engagement on social media than those about Hurricane Ida and its remnants in the Northeast, the second-biggest story last week.

  • That can't be explained by simply the volume of coverage. Afghanistan stories generated a per-article rate of 290 social media likes, comments or shares — compared with 54 interactions for each storm-related article.

The big question: Will these critical engagements break through with independent or Democratic swing voters or simply energize the GOP base?

  • Eight of the top 10 stories last week came from right-wing outlets: four from the Daily Wire, two from Fox News, and one from Breitbart and Newsmax. Conservative media has been revving up audiences.
  • Top-performing stories took on a strident, anti-Biden tone. They included scathing words about the president from the parents of Marines killed in last month's Kabul airport attack, as well as calls for Biden and military leadership to resign.
  • But many Democrats expect voters to see it as a far-off issue that pales in comparison to their concerns about the U.S. economy, COVID-19 or health care.
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