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Trump's infection becomes biggest election storyline

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Trump's coronavirus infection and the outbreak among his allies has become the biggest storyline of the election on social media through the first three days, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.

Why it matters: All of a sudden, the country's central storyline is the threat of the virus and the Trump administration's approach to dealing with it — topics that the president wanted to deflect attention from in the campaign's home stretch.


By the numbers: Stories about Trump and others in his orbit who contracted COVID-19 generated 55 million interactions on social media (likes, comments, shares) from Thursday, when the story kicked off with Hope Hicks' positive test, through Saturday.

  • That three-day total is higher than the reaction to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the New York Times bombshell about Trump's taxes and last week's debate.
  • While RBG's death brought a higher single-day total, Trump's infection was (barely) higher when measuring the first three days.

Between the lines: The most-viral stories on social media were largely straightforward news headlines and not commentary.

  • The most viral post came not from a national news outlet, but Baton Rouge's local TV station — WAFB9's breaking news story generated more than 4 million interactions.
  • The top post about a positive test that wasn't the president or the First Lady was CNN's story about Kellyanne Conway contracting the virus (385k).
  • Readership for these stories was highest in blue states over the last few days — clicks per million residents were nearly twice as high in those states, according to data provided to Axios from social media management platform Socialflow.
  • Connecticut was highest with 22k clicks per million. Among the battlegrounds, Michigan was highest with nearly 13k.

Yes, but: While the president's fight against a deadly virus feels singularly gripping, the numbers for this storyline are comparable to Ginsburg's death and even the debate from a few days earlier.

  • The fact that the news broke while much of America was sleeping likely dulled the potential virality of the story compared to the reaction it would have gotten if it had happened in the middle of the day.

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