Mobile App News Consumption Explodes as U.S. Presidential Election Hangs in the Balance

Estelle Danilo, Flurry Analyst

As America waits in limbo for election results from Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina and Georgia, a polarized population is starved for new information. And while 2020 has featured some of the biggest events in modern history -- a global pandemic, an impeached U.S. President, widespread protests over severe social injustice, and a wildly volatile economy --  83% of Americans believe that who wins the presidency, according to Pew Research, matters more now than it has over the past two decades. As a result, the rate of voter turnout has broken levels not seen since 1900. In this report, we look at the massive spike in news consumption driven by this year’s U.S. Presidential election.

Flurry Analytics, owned by Verizon Media, is used in over 1 million mobile applications, providing aggregated insights across more than 2 billion mobile devices per month. For this analysis, Flurry measured news consumption using the number of sessions in mobile news apps covering political and current events. We ensured our sample of news outlets represent a mix of left, centrist and right leaning news outlets. 

Let’s start by looking at news consumption levels during 2020 versus 2019, including news consumption this week.

Mobile News Consumption During 2020 Election

In the chart above, we show daily news app sessions leading up to the day after the Presidential election, November 4, 2020. We compare consumption this year in blue versus last year in grey.

The first thing you’ll notice is that news consumption around the Presidential Election this year is unprecedented, dwarfing every news event before it, in both 2019 and 2020. Scanning from left to right, starting with the first presidential debate, the election period this year was marked by a number of news spikes that exceeded news app consumption during the same period in 2019 by nearly 50%. These spikes include typical election events such as debates and conventions as well as one-off news cycles including when President Trump contracted coronavirus or when his campaign website was hacked. And once again, news consumption skyrocketed on Election Day, soaring even higher the day after the election. On November 4, as the world eagerly awaited election results, news consumption more than doubled during this year’s election period (Sept 25 - Nov 2), and more than tripled compared to the same day last year. 

With political news reaching unprecedented heights this year, we further compared news consumption during the 2020 election period to that of 2016.

Change in Mobile News Consumption: 2016 vs. 2020

In the chart above, we show the percent increase in news consumption during Republican and Democratic Conventions on the left-hand side, and Presidential Debates on the right. For each of the events, we measure the increase in news consumption compared to an average day in its respective month. We show a side-by-side comparison of this year in blue to the 2016 Presidential Election year in grey.

While engagement with the Democratic and Republican Conventions this year did not change considerably compared to the previous elections, Americans this year engaged more with the Presidential Debates, especially the head-to-head debates. News app sessions during the first and third presidential debate increased by 13 and 10 percentage points respectively. With the second presidential debate canceled and replaced by Town Halls this year, news sessions decreased, but only by 1 point. Americans engaged much more with the elections this year than in 2016. 

This year’s elections have driven record-breaking engagement compared to both last year and the 2016 Presidential Election. Additionally, this year’s tight race between the two candidates -- along with heightened emotions and delayed election results -- have amplified and extended the surge in election news consumption. With President Trump’s baseless comments regarding election fraud, calls for the vote counting process to stop, and threats that he may not relinquish his office, we anticipate continued unprecedented election news consumption for some time. And make sure you subscribe to the Flurry Analytics blog and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to get the latest industry analyses.