News consumption and politics: Left leaning sites grew in popularity in US swing states during election

Feb 18, 2021 | Content marketing

News consumption and politics: Left leaning sites grew in popularity in US swing states during election
Left-leaning news sources were considerably more popular than right-leaning outlets in US ‘swing states’ in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, new data can reveal.

The figures released by Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), sourced from the company’s opt-in consumer panel of smartphone users, show that close to two-thirds (63%) of all mobile news consumed by smartphone users in the months prior to November 3rd came from left-leaning sources.

The findings suggest that smartphone analytics and behavioural insights around news consumption could well have hinted at the ultimate outcome of a Joe Biden victory – and that future election outcomes could even be forecast using similar data insights.

Among the findings, GWS can reveal that:

  • CNN readership grew 27% in swing states during the 2020 election cycle, compared to just a 12% increase for Fox News
  • Left-leaning news sources saw a 34% spike in activity in the week following the first debate
  • Parler became the most popular source of right-leaning news in the 30-day period following the election result, while Newsmax daily consumption was over 70 times higher post-election

The data comes from GWS’ OneMeasure Consumer Panel, an opt-in consumer panel-based service that evaluates mobile app usage and content, mobile network performance, and consumer perceptions. The panel includes tens of thousands of consumers located across the U.S. and is calibrated to represent the demographic profile of the country’s population.

“Traditional polling measures for the Presidential elections have become more challenging. Whether it’s the fear of revealing their political interests or perhaps concerns over identity theft or some other reason, the public seems less inclined to provide their personal views to pollsters,” said Dr Paul Carter, GWS founder and CEO. “GWS’s anonymised opt-in panel provides critical insights into smartphone engagement – what apps are being used, for how long and by which demographic. Considering how much news is now consumed via their smartphones, actual usage data collected and analysed by GWS could provide key insights to help improve election forecasting accuracy.”


CNN outpaces Fox News in swing state smartphone usage YoY. Swing state smartphone users spent 27% more time daily on the CNN mobile app during the 2020 election cycle compared to the same time period in 2019; whereas time spent on the Fox News app only increased by 12%. When looking at the entire U.S., CNN consumption during the election cycle was 16% greater over the same time period in 2019 while Fox News was 18% greater.

Left-leaning news outlets benefited from the first Presidential Debate. The outcome of the first debate appears to have driven smartphone users to spend even more time on left-leaning news outlets. Average daily consumption of left-leaning news jumped 34% in the week following the first debate (note: consumption of left-leaning news during the election cycle prior to the debate had minimal day to day fluctuations). On the other hand, right-leaning news consumption (which also had minimal fluctuations prior to the debate) experienced an increase of less than 1% in the week after the debate.

Parler, Newsmax and other right-leaning news outlets saw huge post-election pickup. As a share of all major right-leaning mobile news outlets (Fox News, NY Post, Newsmax, Epoch Times, Breitbart, etc.), consumption of Parler news on mobile devices increased from 11% prior to election day (i.e., news consumed over 30 days prior to the election) to 43% once the new president was announced (i.e., news consumed over 30 days after the announcement). This spike made Parler the most consumed source of right-leaning news for that time period, surpassing Fox News, which fell from 74% to 32%. Newsmax ranked third post-election, but experienced a large increase too (from less than 1% to just over 14%) as the volume of Newsmax news consumed daily increased 73 times post-election.

Georgia smartphone users leaned to left-leaning news outlets ahead of runoff election. Georgia smartphone users spent more than double the amount of time engaging with left-leaning national broadcast news outlets than right-leaning ones from July 2020 through December 31, 2020. Despite the claims of fraudulent elections and former President Trump holding campaign rallies in Georgia following the November election, Georgia smartphone users remained more engaged with left-leaning news sources in the lead up to the runoff election.

Dr Carter adds: “Mobile phones are part of everyone’s lives; they’re with you most of the time. As a result, how individuals interact with their phone tells us a lot. So when we analysed mobile news consumption during the election cycle (July – December 2020), there was a consistent finding throughout that time period: smartphone users spent more time engaging with left-leaning news sources. What individuals chose to engage with on their mobile device turned out to be a more reliable indicator of how they voted when compared to traditional polling measures that accounted for consumers’ answers at face value.”

To learn more about GWS’s One Measure Consumer Panel (OMCP), click here.

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