With each potential presidential candidate enjoying significant reach on social, how is that translating into engagement for publishers?

When we first started covering the US Election 2016 for the blog, there were almost twenty candidates and all to play for. Now, just a few months out from the election itself, five potential candidates remain – and each has a markedly different impact on social.
Our initial data showed that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the frontrunners on social for their respective parties . But how does that translate into engagement for publishers? Are publishers benefitting from the candidates’ individual social media clout?
We used NewsWhip Spike and NewsWhip Analytics to look at five different publishers’ coverage of the Democratic and Republican candidates. According to Spike’s dedicated Election 2016 tag, some of the biggest publishers for this period were CNN, Fox News, the New York Times, the Guardian, and Politico.
We looked at Facebook interaction* for these publishers over a 42-day period from March 1st to April 11th. Here are three tables illustrating what we found.
The first shows the total Facebook engagements generated by publishers during this period.
Table showing the total engagements for five publishers between March and April 2016
*Facebook interactions/engagements = total Facebook likes + comments + shares for this period
This table, meanwhile, outlines the number of engagements elicited by each individual candidate for the five publishers.
Table showing the total engagements generated per candidate for five publishers between March and April 2016
Let’s break these down first.

Trump remains the biggest Republican candidate, but both Democrats are evenly tallied

Of the publishers we looked at, CNN and Fox generated the most engagements with their coverage. As has been the trend throughout our coverage of Election 2016, there is a huge divergence in engagements among the Republican candidates, but the Democrats chalk up similar numbers.
Content about Donald Trump elicited over 3 million interactions for CNN, the most of any candidate. This is almost 77% of the publisher’s total engagements for Election 2016 coverage this period. Similarly, Trump generated almost 89% of Fox’s total engagements for Election 2016, bringing in over 1.9 million interactions.
Fellow Republican candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich made less of an impact than Trump, but still managed to generate more interactions for Fox than for any other publisher. Coverage of Cruz yielded 393,532 engagements for Fox, only slightly more than the 380,528 earned by CNN. Stories about Kasich brought in 155,872 interactions for Fox and 141,557 for CNN.
Interestingly, Bernie Sanders generated more social engagements for CNN than for any other publisher. CNN’s coverage of the Vermont senator notched up almost a million interactions. The publisher with the next highest amount of engagements for Sanders is Politico, which earned 375,377 this period. Hillary Clinton also proved a strong draw for CNN’s social feeds, with the publisher earning 896,478 interactions on its Clinton coverage during this period.

Sign up for a free trial of Spike and track engagement around each candidate on social

Trump generates more coverage than other candidates – but it depends on the publisher

This table shows how many stories were posted about each candidate by these publishers. It also breaks down the average engagements generated per candidate story for each publisher.
Table showing the total stories and average engagements generated per candidate for five publishers between March and April 2016
Coverage of Election 2016 in the mainstream media has come for some criticism, with studies showing Trump is featured far more heavily than other candidates. Our data indicates that the level of coverage, however, depends very much on the publisher.
Fox News published a phenomenal number of stories on the Republican frontrunner during this period. This is perhaps to be expected, given its reputation as a leading conservative publisher (and, of course, its chequered history with Trump).
Other publishers were more even in their coverage of the candidates during this period. The New York Times covered Clinton the most, posting 126 stories. This is broadly in line with its coverage of both Trump (114 articles) and Bernie Sanders (72 articles). Politico posted more stories on Trump (318) than on the other two Republican candidates combined (96 on Ted Cruz, 35 on John Kasich), but its coverage of the Democrat candidates was consistent. It posted 135 articles on Clinton during this period, and 105 stories on Sanders.
Notably, when Trump is removed from the equation, even Fox’s coverage of the other candidates is fairly equal. It posted the most pieces of content per candidate overall, and its coverage of Clinton (977 stories) is also somewhat removed from the others. However, the number of stories posted about Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders was quite even, with 673 and 622 stories per candidate respectively.

On average, Democrats drive more engagement for publishers

It may be worth noting that Fox’s heavy coverage of Trump doesn’t necessarily translate into massive engagement. Stories about Trump elicited almost 2 million interactions for the conservative publisher, but on average that means the candidate earned about 812 engagements per story. This is actually less than the amount generated by Hillary Clinton, who elicited an average of 823 interactions per story. Perhaps surprisingly, coverage of John Kasich was a big draw for Fox, picking up an average of 647 interactions per piece of content.
Overall, the two Democrat candidates picked up more engagement per story than the Republicans. For each publisher we looked at (other than Fox), stories about Hillary Clinton yielded over 3,000 interactions each. The New York Times saw almost 4,000 interactions per story for both Clinton and Sanders, with the latter just edging his rival by an average of 3,958 engagements per story to Clinton’s 3,911. Sanders was also more popular for CNN and Politico, generating an average of 3,812 and 3,575 interactions per story for these respective publishers.
It’s interesting to note how wildly divergent Trump’s numbers are. On average, he brought in the most engagements per story for the New York Times (a significant volume of these may come from one article which we mentioned in our previous blog). He also elicited nearly 4,000 engagements per story for CNN, but paled in comparison to the Democrat names for Politico and the Guardian. Reflecting his impact for Fox, John Kasich actually brought in more engagements per story for Politico than Trump. Coverage of Kasich yielded 1,912 on average, as against Trump’s 1,664.
Finally, here’s a table setting out what percentage of each publisher’s total engagements came from content on each candidate.
Table showing what percentage of publishers' total Facebook engagements came from each candidate
We’ll be continuing our coverage of Election 2016 as campaign season progresses.
 

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