The 2016 race to the White House has been an election cycle of many firsts, particularly when it comes to the candidates’ advertising campaigns.
It is the first presidential election cycle to fully embrace programmatic technology; he first candidate to advertise on Snapchat; and the first to deal with the “Trump effect,” in which one candidate's earned media coverage has far outweighed any others'.
Amid this season of firsts, constants have also emerged. Perhaps most significant is the role of local media and the level of engagement it continues to provide between candidates and constituents.
This primary season has been a crowded one.
The once-bountiful GOP race is now whittled down to three, and the Democratic race between two starkly different candidates persists. For all of these campaigns, mounting support at the grassroots and community level has been necessary to generate the backing that propelled them this far.
Ultimately, continued support of this nature will be needed to clinch the nomination. Local media have often served as a gateway to community engagement and this year is proving no different.
In an assessment of Web sites that drive traffic to the top candidates’ own sites, voters continue to consume news and information via local sources.
Broadcast media sites that are defined as television, radio and Internet news Web sites were analyzed using data from Hitwise. The focus was on the Web traffic that led to the following candidates’ sites: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Such broadcast sites include national destinations like CNN.com, ABCNews.com and NPR.org, along with local online destinations. Surveying Web traffic during January and February 2016, a significant amount of the top Web sites driving audiences to candidates’ sites are local outlets.
During the first two months of 2016, one in three (32%) of the top 25 broadcast media sites that drove traffic to Ted Cruz’s own site were local sites. These sites included Fox 13 Memphis’ site, WNEM.com (Michigan), KVIA TV’s site (Texas) and My News 4’s site (Reno).
Donald Trump’s traffic told a similar story. In the case of Trump, whose campaign favors earned and social media over traditional ad buys, online local media remained a predominant source of traffic in the online news category.
Out of all television, radio and Internet news sites that drove traffic to Donald Trump’s official campaign site, local media sites represented half (50%) of the top 10 sites in February 2016.
Both Clinton and Sanders experienced similar traffic from local online news sites. Half of the top 10 online news sites that drove traffic to Clinton’s own site were local media. This included KRDO’s site (Colorado Springs), WKRN-TV’s site (Nashville) and Live5news.com (Charleston).
Sanders’ traffic, similarly, was derived from local sites one in three (36%) times out of his top 25. In his case, this included NewsOK.com (Oklahoma City), CBS42’s website (Birmingham) and WVmetronews.com (West Virginia). For both candidates, these outlets served communities in states with early primary elections.
What does this data tell us about local media?
No matter the candidate or party affiliation, local media remains a dominant resource for voters. This may come as a surprise to some, given the bountiful landscape of digital destinations that consumers visit to consume political news. Yet despite a variety of options, local media remains an effective tactic to reach active voters.
It’s clear that constituents continue to consume their news via these outlets, and not necessarily the national outlets that serve larger audiences. For this particular election cycle, where every piece of support matters, local media has proven a vital source of engagement for the remaining candidates.
In the arguably overcrowded media landscape, voters will continue to rely on local outlets to consume political information. This trend will persist into the general election and future cycles, as local media maintains the one connection that trumps all else: community context.