Audience engagement with the U.S. election candidates: Research update

Our previous pre-election data analysis of candidates showed a significant disparity in reader attention, with President Trump garnering far more engagement than his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Now that more key events — including the president’s illness and another in-person debate — are behind us, we wanted to revisit our analysis and see how, if at all, reader interactions may have changed.

Here’s the latest snapshot of reader engagement with the candidates, along with some quick takeaways.

The U.S. election data we analyzed

For this second set of analysis, we identified approximately 300,000 articles from Sept. 25 through the second debate that were principally about the candidates running for election (more on our methodology at the end of the post).

How readers interacted with the candidates by pageviews, engagement

The disparity in Engaged Time was lowest after the first debate. While the president’s engagement dipped following the final debate, it was still far above Biden on a per pageview basis.

A similar trend can be said for total engagement. Prior to Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, he maintained about 5x the Daily Engaged Time compared to Biden.

After his diagnosis, the disparity rose as high as 12x as much engagement, before slowly returning to normal just prior to the town halls.

The second closest day was around the town hall events on Oct. 15, when Trump only had twice as much engagement as Biden.

Related: Should media worry about “Trump fatigue”? We analyzed engagement data to find out

Biden draws greater engagement on articles with more mentions 

Above, we see that Biden fared comparatively better by Engaged Time on articles that mentioned him more than 50% of the time, surpassing Trump on that metric on certain days. 

This was most notable following the two debates and the competing town halls that replaced the second debate, which was cancelled following the president’s diagnosis.

Further reading: Behind the reader engagement data that’s helped stories rise above the rest

Our latest election data analysis: Key takeaways

A few quick takeaways from our latest round of research on the candidates:

  • Overall, the president continued to show stronger attention from audiences by Total Engaged Time compared to his democratic opponent. The clearest example of this was during his diagnosis of Covid-19, surpassing 30 million Total Engaged Minutes per day.
  • While it has been reported that far more people watched the Biden town hall event, Trump still led in overall reader engagement with web and app content in the time period around the event.
  • Biden did show more engagement when it came to content where a majority was about a certain candidate. This suggests that the president’s wide advantage in overall engagement could be driven more by the number of articles than the depth of reading.

We’ll be continuing to review data during and following the election to see how readers are interacting with content, particularly to determine whether search and social behaviors align with what we’ve seen during past major events.


Our Data Science team identified approximately 300,000 articles from Sept. 25 through the second debate 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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