How have readers engaged with content on the presidential candidates? Our analysis

As the 2020 Presidential Election quickly approaches, we at Chartbeat have been just as interested in the campaign as you have been. With global news publishers accounting for a great deal of our global network, we wanted to take a look at how readers have been engaging with articles about the candidates running in the election.

More on our findings and methodology below.

Research on Engaged Time among candidates

When we analyzed the Total Engaged Time by candidate, we found that there was a large inequality between the engagement generated by sitting President Donald Trump and the engagement pulled by Democratic candidate Joe Biden, as shown below. 

Chart of total engaged time by 2020 US election presidential candidate

Prior to the first presidential debate, which is marked by the large spike in engagement on the right side of the graph, Trump maintains an average of 15 million minutes of daily Engaged Time, with a pre-debate peak of 20 million minutes on Aug. 9, when he signed several coronavirus relief executive orders. Biden maintains a lower average of 3 million minutes, with a pre-debate peak of 8 million minutes on Aug. 12, when Biden announced his pick of Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate.

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One possible reason for this disparity in engagement may be the unequal coverage, as some candidates are written about far more frequently than others. Of the articles identified, 81% were attributed to Trump

Analyzing candidate engagement on a per word basis

The next analysis focused on the engagement per word written about each candidate. This allows us to account for both the number of articles written, but also for the length of the articles themselves.

Chart of total engagement per word for 2020 US presidential candidate election

Still, we see a large discrepancy between the engagement driven between the candidates. While the two major candidates were almost equal on Aug. 12, Trump again sustains a lead, averaging 29,000 minutes of engagement per word while Biden holds only 7,000 minutes of engagement per word.

Going further, we again found that when viewing engagement per page view, Trump leads with an average of 36 seconds of engaged time per page view compared to Biden’s 8 seconds, as we show above.

Engagement by content type with presidential election candidates

We also analyzed the top 50 pieces of content readers engaged with most, reviewing Engaged Time, pageviews, and referral sources. We found that short-form articles from search lead the way, representing 67% of those articles and 58% of the total engagement by Engaged Time.

While we cannot disclose the actual articles that received the highest levels of engagement to preserve the privacy of our partners, we can anecdotally say that they reflected the data we outlined above, in that they’re largely related to the president.

This may be the result of a deliberate attempt by the Biden campaign to avoid extensive media coverage, even as he emerged to become the presumptive Democratic candidate for president.

What our analysis says about reader engagement with candidates

Here are a couple key takeaways from our analysis:

1. Trump still accounts for high levels of reader attention. 

Whether it is on an Engaged Time, pageview, or per word basis, the president continues to capture the attention of readers. The democratic candidate, Joe Biden, has seen significant coverage, but it pales in comparison to the incumbent. 

Contributing factors to these findings could be Biden’s low media profile during this timeframe, along with Trump’s stronger likelihood to be referenced in news considering his global importance across multiple topics, as our previous data has suggested.

2. Readers are still drawn to breaking or recent content. 

Articles (the daily content we expect to see from national news) garnered a majority of engagement among audiences, which echoes the trends we saw in analyzing reader behaviors during the height of the global pandemic

Live blogs and longform, while showing notable reader engagement, paled in comparison to those daily pieces, suggesting readers may be adjusting their news consumption habits to wait for the “full story” as it develops throughout the day.

The data continues to show that all eyes continue to be focused on the president as ballots roll in and Election Day nears. We’ll continue to follow the engagement trends and share any relevant findings as they become available.


We identified 317,180 articles published between Aug. 1 and Oct. 1 that were principally about the candidates* running for election. We further attributed portions of articles to each of the candidates by how many times they were mentioned in the article. We focused on this time period specifically to view the expected media coverage around the large political conventions, as opposed to typical coverage, which may be biased towards the incumbent.

*Our Data Science team uses a proprietary, natural language processing system to determine the “key entities” of each story. If either candidate was one of those key entities, they were then selected for inclusion in this study.

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