Navigating the Digital Media Maze of the 2024 US Presidential Election

In 2024, about half of the world’s population will vote in an election. From some of the world’s most populous countries like the United States and India to some of its smaller ones like Uruguay and Lithuania, national elections will require comprehensive coverage across news sites and social media.

We’ll be pairing Tubular Labs’ social media insights with Chartbeat’s on-site analytics to paint a 360-degree view of the evolving political landscape leading up to this fall’s US Presidential Election and other contests around the world. 

To kick things off, this data dive is dedicated to catching up on what’s happened in the US Republican primaries as well as looking ahead to the general election. It’s safe to say that we have solidified party candidates and unless Biden or Trump unexpectedly drops out for health problems or legal qualms between now and November— we’ve got a rematch on our hands.

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A look back at the primaries

Despite the early promise of Ron DeSantis and the fortitude of Nikki Haley, when we compare the candidates by Engaged Time on sites in the Chartbeat network, Donald Trump dominated audience attention. Even after Trump declined to attend the first Republican debate in August 2023, the former president still earned more on-site engagement than DeSantis or Haley. On average, Trump earned 5X the daily engagement of DeSantis and 22X the daily engagement of Haley.

Tubular’s social video insights tell a similar story. Over the last six months, Trump videos received tens of millions more views than videos related to Haley and DeSantis. While viewership does not equate to votes, it’s clear that Trump had an insurmountable attention advantage.

Comparing this year’s primaries to 2020

As the results of the Republican nomination became clearer, on-site audiences actually read more articles related to elections than they did during the same early primary cycle in 2020. Not only have pageviews remained higher than the last election, but they have grown with each successive race, starting in Iowa (days 1-7 on the graph above), growing in New Hampshire (days 8-14), and finally crescendoing on Super Tuesday (days 15-21). 

2020 followed a similar, if smaller, pattern, but it’s worth noting that the primaries were still competitive at that point in the election cycle. On this year’s Super Tuesday, Nikki Haley was still in the race, but it was a matter of when and not if she would concede the nomination to Trump. 

If this level of traffic and engagement keeps up, it will be important to parse what exactly is driving reader interest, and that’s why we’ll also be keeping a close eye on election topics through the end of the year. 

A Bird’s Eye View of Today’s General Election Battleground

While Trump-related articles and social content blew away Republican challengers in terms of engagement, how do they stack up to Biden as we turn our attention to the general election? 

Incumbents typically garner much more attention than their opponents, but as we know, Trump is no ordinary candidate as a former president with a knack for attention-grabbing headlines and controversy. 

If we look back to 2020, then incumbent Donald Trump was getting more than 5X the on-site engagement of Biden. Though Biden is now sitting in the incumbent seat, total daily Engaged Time is much closer. 

Between August 2023 and March 2024, Biden-related articles received a daily average of 272,000 hours of Engaged Time while Trump-related articles averaged about 220,000 hours. This is much closer than the engagement advantage Trump maintained while running for reelection in 2020. 

While Biden has had higher highs in terms of on-site engagement, particularly in October following the Hamas attack in Israel, Trump has also had his engaging days. On both site and social, they seem to come as a result of his legal escapades rather than his political duties.

For example, Trump saw a major spike in August of 2023 when he surrendered himself to the Fulton County Jail for charges related to an alleged scheme to overturn the election in Georgia. Upon his release, he fanned the social flames by tweeting his mugshot on X, his first tweet since his account was suspended during the insurrection at the Capitol in 2021. 

A closer look at the story on Social

In the realm of social video, Trump outperforms Biden across platforms. On only three occasions in the past six months has election-related YouTube content about Biden approached or surpassed Trump content.

Tubular found that over the past six months, Trump has won almost 2X as many YouTube views as Biden. Facebook, however, has a closer margin with Trump taking 53.3% of views to Biden’s 46.6%. 

Of course, we must pay attention to TikTok as well to understand how younger generations may vote and this platform has a Trump/Biden split closer to 60/40. With any social platform, we have to be wary of unregulated media and misinformation, especially with the proliferation of AI in the past year. 

For example, in August 2023, the most viewed TikTok content about the US presidential election had over 13 million views and 1 million engagements and featured Trump being frantically arrested by police. While the carousel of images looks eerily real, it was actually created by AI. This instance highlights why it’s so important for trusted media publishers to establish a presence on newer social platforms and meet Gen Z voters where they are already spending time.

Social Audience Demographics

Looking at those who are viewing Trump and Biden election content on Facebook, Tubular identified the largest age demographic is 55+, making up 41% of all viewership. What’s interesting is that the male audience of 45-54-year-olds is actually smaller than the audience of 25-34 and 35-44-year-olds on this platform.

When we look at those watching US presidential election content about Trump and Biden on YouTube, it’s even more male-dominated than Facebook’s. On YouTube, men make up about 77% of all US presidential viewership. This insight reveals an opportunity for campaigners to target the untapped female audiences on YouTube.

The Topics and Trends Engaging Election Audiences

In the digital age, social media platforms have become election battlegrounds where political narratives are forged, debated, and discussed. While views don’t equal votes, they do give us an idea of the topics that actually influence voters. 

For both candidates, Tubular data reveals interesting insights about what their social audience cares about. In the chart below, you can see some of the hot topics watched by each candidate’s YouTube account audience. 

Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump’s Owned YouTube Channels:  

*This is not election-specific content

The audience that watches Joe Biden’s YouTube channel is concerned with a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine likely because this war has erupted under his presidency. Almost 30% of Biden’s YouTube audience also watched content about Gun Control in September 2023 after he established the first-ever White House Office of Gun Control Prevention to address the gun violence that has been plaguing America. 

Those who watch Trump’s YouTube account unsurprisingly also watch content that aligns with some of his platform’s biggest points such as illegal immigration. Of course, censorship and freedom of speech correlate with his active use of Twitter during his past presidency and the fact that it was suspended in 2021 during the insurrection at the White House on January 6. Trump has repeatedly pointed to tech platforms for censorship and we can see that his audience cares about these topics as well. Freedom of speech has been the most prevalent topic for his audience – over the past year, an average of 36% of Donald Trump’s YouTube audience also watched videos about this topic.

Below, we used Tubular to explore key election topics that are likely to sway people’s votes such as abortion and immigration. The chart depicts audience affinity on YouTube. The numbers you see indicate the likelihood of Biden or Trump’s owned audience to also watch videos about these election topics.

Trump’s YouTube audience is 49.9x more likely to also watch videos about abortion than other audiences, while Biden’s audience is 38.5x more likely to watch videos about gun control.

Despite Trump and his attention-grabbing antics winning more views and engagement overall, his YouTube audience is only slightly more active when it comes to these election topics, and Biden’s audience even leads for gun control likely due to his Democratic base’s support of it. 

How are audiences engaging with topics on site?

Our analysis of on-site engagement with popular election issues shows that readers are spending more time with topics like climate change, education, and economic policy than crime, abortion, or immigration. 

While the topic of climate change enjoyed a boost from coverage of the UN Climate Change Conference in November and December, education and economic policy have had a steadier amount of engagement in the last six months. Topics like Crime / Guns, on the other hand, are more influenced by breaking news events like mass shootings.

What’s next

As we prepare for more election milestones, Tubular and Chartbeat will continue to track candidates, audiences, topics, and trends that emerge on news sites and social media.

While this year may feel like a rerun of the same candidates and the same issues, the socioeconomic landscape is vastly different and the nuances within the data will help us navigate the road ahead.

If you’d like to follow along as we analyze election content throughout this year, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about our next installment.

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