Dec 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The relentless 2021 news cycle in one chart

Data: Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Between a siege on the Capitol building, a Texas snowstorm, Brood X cicadas, the Olympics and a stuck container ship in the Suez Canal — not to mention endless COVID variants it's been a busy year.

Why it matters: In the inaugural Axios-Google Trends news cycle chart, we chronicled the unprecedented first year of President Trump. Four years later, Joe Biden is president and the themes have changed, but America's short attention spans and rapid breaking news cycles continue.

By the numbers: The single topic to receive the highest percentage of Google searches all year was the Olympics, during the week of its opening ceremonies.

  • Next came searches about stimulus checks at the very start of the year, followed by searches related to Trump during the week of Jan. 6.
  • Searches related to Biden and the COVID-19 vaccine rounded out the top five topics overall, out of more than 50 major 2021 events and topics chosen by Axios.

COVID never left our searches over the course of the year.

  • Google measures search interest on a scale of 0-100, which reflects the percent of total Google searches dedicated to a topic. Searches for COVID-19 vaccines never fell below 5 on that scale, even when compared to dozens of spiking topics over the entire year.
  • Searches related to shootings also never fell below 5.

Between the lines: Overall, most major events or issues this year only managed to keep America's attention for one or two weeks.

  • From mid-May to early June was cicada season — both in our backyards and on search engines. Shortly after, interest in critical race theory reached its peak and remained high for several weeks.

What to watch: The topics that stick or surge at the right time could have an important role in next year's mid-term elections.

  • There was relatively high and sustained interest in topics like crime and the border this year — favored midterm talking points by the GOP. However, it was largely in line with interest over the last five years.
  • Biden's Build Back Better plan received a recent spike of attention recently, but it has had relatively little national interest compared to the other times on the list.

Go deeper: Visit our past projects for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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