As bloggers, there are few busier times than the middle of a presidential election … unless it’s the very end of a presidential election. We’ll be up all night, trust me, on that first Tuesday in November. However, even in such a target-rich environment, not every day has a bounty of interesting news stories, and sometimes traffic and comments don’t explode. BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins has an unusual theory as to why some days and some blog posts get less traffic than others:
In the war of partisan trash talk that frequently consumes online political media, one truth has emerged from this year’s election coverage that transcends ideology: No one wants to read about Mitt Romney.
The well-starched Republican’s traffic poison has been felt this year at websites across the political spectrum — including at BuzzFeed — and it’s left many editors, publishers, and bloggers yearning for the days of the unpredictable Sarah Palin, the maverick John McCain, and the Obama-Clinton blood feud. Bloggers and editors are left to decipher its causes — is it Romney’s discipline, his blameless personal life, or the simple fact that his supporters are less likely to be trolling the web? …
But as BuzzFeed’s own statistics indicate, the phenomenon extends beyond traffic for day-to-day campaign stories. In a sort of controlled experiment, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski created two sets of similar, photo-heavy posts focused on the early lives of President Obama and Mitt Romney. One set focused on Obama’s and Romney’s childhoods, the other on Obama and Romney as young men. They were comparably promoted — with all four posts featured on the site’s front page, and pushed out into the social media sphere — but in both cases the Obama-centric posts vastly outperformed those about Romney, as the chart below shows.
McKay contacted me for comment on this story, and I’m quoted warmly and accurately later as a skeptic of this theory. None of us at Hot Air have noticed a traffic trend related to specific people in the news, with an exception for Sarah Palin in 2008-11, which the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis also notes. For a while, we got more traffic and comments on Chris Christie posts, but that only lasted a short while. Most of the time, traffic and comments are driven by topic, not by personalities.
Furthermore, most posts that mention Romney also mention Obama, although it’s less true the other way around. Romney’s relevance now is linked to his election battle with the incumbent President, while Obama is relevant on blog posts separately from Romney. The methodology of separating traffic patterns between the two would be very problematic, if not impossible. The above experiment is one attempt, but that’s only a single data set on a one-off subject. The interest in Obama’s pictures might well be related to a strong sense of not knowing or understanding the current President, which is hardly a plus for Obama.
Even if this turned out to be true to some degree, what would it mean? Higher traffic for Obama stories on sites like Hot Air and The Daily Caller would hardly equate to a higher degree of enthusiasm for Obama, given our reader sets. It would indicate that a sitting President is still more relevant to the news cycle and to the function of government than a challenger … which is undeniably the case, even (or perhaps especially) when the incumbent is unpopular and the challenger is seen as an improvement.