As November draws ever closer, publishers both large and small are amping up coverage. With so many covering the election however, what stories are actually sparking the most engagement? Which ones resonate most with users on social, and why?
Using NewsWhip Spike’s dedicated Election 2016 tag, we looked at coverage from five major publishers over the past 30 days: The New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Politico. Analysing engagement around these publishers’ biggest stories, here’s what we found. Please note that “engagement” in this context means total Facebook (likes+comments+shares) and Twitter shares.
These were biggest Election 2016 stories over the past 30 days (February 29th – March 30th 2016):
Graph showing top Election 2016 stories in Feb/March 2016
Let’s take a closer look at these.

Type of content

The biggest story of the month is an opinion piece from New York Times’ columnist David Brooks. Entitled “No, not Trump, not ever”, its blunt headline immediately stands out, but the piece’s lengthy and uncompromising tone seems to have struck a chord with many users. Brooks’ frank tone provides an insight into the media’s own assessment of campaign coverage, giving the column a clear appeal to industry professionals as well as ordinary readers. This article, published on March 18th, has driven a combined 338,656 interactions across Facebook and Twitter in less than two weeks.
Analytical coverage also evoked a strong reaction from users. The Guardian’s piece “Millions of ordinary Americans support Trump. Here’s why” attempts to contextualise the wave of support for Donald Trump. Its headline is a fine example of a social lede, promising the reader valuable insight without taking an overt stance on the candidate. While the author isn’t entirely neutral – he points out that he does not support Trump – the article takes an informative look at socioeconomic and other issues contributing to the candidate’s support. Published on March 8th, it’s notched up a total 199,968 engagements and continues to drive strong interaction, as we’ll discuss below.
Regular reporting also figures into the top five. Politico’s biggest Election 2016 piece for this period is one of the few not about Trump, looking instead at how Bernie Sanders’ tax policy is likely to affect citizens in different income brackets. The report itself covers a study by a think tank, but its eye-catching headline – “Report: Sanders proposes $15t in tax increases, hitting most taxpayers” – is enough to stir heated conversation among the candidate’s supporters and detractors. At time of writing, this piece had earned 134,076 engagements across Facebook and Twitter.

Tone

The Huffington Post’s election coverage stands out in this group of publishers. Its decision to cover Trump as an entertainment figure prompted debate (though it later altered this approach) and its two biggest headlines for this period do reference entertainers. A recent study by the Pew Research Centre indicated that many young people get information about the election from late night comedy shows. Of the 78% of American adults who got election info from television, the study found that 25% mentioned comedy shows as a prominent source. Both John Oliver and Louis C.K., the two names cited in the Huffington Post’s top articles, have a background in comedy.
Screenshot of a Huffington Post article, Feb 2016
The articles themselves steer clear of taking a stance on the candidates, preferring to relate what was said elsewhere. However, the headlines are very forthright and leaving the reader in little doubt as to the article’s tone. Between them, these two pieces earned a combined 408,582 engagements on Facebook and Twitter. The John Oliver piece in particular elicited a significant Twitter response, with 55,140 shares.

Engagement

Overall, David Brooks’ piece for the New York Times scored the most engagement for this period, with a total of 338,656 interactions across Facebook and Twitter. However, if we scrutinise these pieces more closely, it appears that the Guardian and another article by the Washington Post show the most longevity.
Using Spike, we can break down the level of engagement an article elicits over time. When the articles are assessed in this way, the aforementioned Guardian piece on support for Trump and the Washington Post’s transcript of a meeting with the same candidate show consistently high interaction.
Screenshot of a Guardian article in NewsWhip Spike
Spike lets us see how audiences interact with content in real time across multiple platforms. Sign up for a free trial and keep track of the biggest election stories as they appear.
The Washington Post’s piece – the fifth highest-performing story among this group for this period – has driven colossal engagement. Where many stories experienced a downturn over the 30 days, with an initial strong response levelling off, this piece continues to yield a significant response from users. The above graph shows a steep rise in Facebook likes, comments, and Twitter shares even as the article approaches nine days old.
Screenshot of a WaPo article in NewsWhip Spike
In this way, both the Washington Post and Guardian pieces show signs of evergreen status. As the election progresses and new developments take hold, in-depth pieces such as these are likely to draw renewed interest. The Guardian piece offers notable insight into the origins of Trump’s support, while the Washington Post story is an open and complete transcript of an interview about policy. Evergreen content such as this can be highly valuable for publishers and, if deployed intelligently, can continue to reach new and wide audiences long after publication.

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