As Shutdown Grinds On, Attention Rises But 'Trump' Wanes

As Shutdown Grinds On, Attention Rises But 'Trump' Wanes
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
As Shutdown Grinds On, Attention Rises But 'Trump' Wanes
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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At the beginning of this month, media coverage about, and search interest in, the U.S. government shutdown were both trending downward as the public and press had grown weary of the bureaucratic stalemate. As the impasse reaches its one-month milestone, interest is growing, but the focus is less about President Trump. 

The timeline below shows worldwide English online news coverage monitored by the GDELT Project since Dec. 1 that mentions the shutdown, as well as the shutdown coverage that also mentions “Republican” or “Republicans,” “Democrat” or “Democrats” or “Trump.” 

As the shutdown has worn into the new year and its impacts have grown, coverage has slowly increased. Trump remains the figure most commonly associated with the shutdown, followed by Democrats and then Republicans.  

Look closely at the timeline and you’ll notice that as coverage has grown, there is an increasing gap between total shutdown coverage and shutdown coverage that mentions the president. The timeline below shows this more clearly, reporting the percentage of all shutdown coverage above that mentioned Trump.

Following a peak on Dec. 11 as a shutdown appeared increasingly likely, between 80 and 90 percent of shutdown coverage mentioned Trump through the end of 2018. However, over the past month that percentage has steadily decreased, hitting a low of 56 percent last week.  

Coverage has increasingly focused on the impacts of the shutdown without associating blame on any particular party. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s State of the Union snub on Jan. 16 halted this downward slide and focused attention back on Trump. The president’s Oval Office speech on Saturday completed this reversal, propelling him back above 80 percent of shutdown coverage and refocusing the debate on himself. 

What about public interest? 

The timeline below shows the total U.S. search volume on Google about the shutdown since Dec. 1 through Jan. 16 (Google imposes a rolling delay on daily data). Google does not report the actual number of searches, instead treating the day with the highest number of searches as 100 percent and reporting the other days as percentages of that peak. 

Search interest about the shutdown leapt in the new year but has remained relatively stable over the past month.  

Putting this all together, as the shutdown grinds on, media coverage has been slowly increasing while public interest remains steady. Coverage associating the shutdown with Trump has been decreasing as attention focuses more on the shutdown’s impacts. The media’s shift from assigning blame to lamenting the damage suggests that in the end neither party will truly “win” from this brinkmanship.

RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.

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