Commentary

Election News Gains Following, But Can It Be Monetized?

Most Americans are following news about the coronavirus pandemic, but a study indicates interest in the upcoming election has started to pick up after slumping last summer.

The findings indicate that publishers are more likely to see higher web traffic for election stories, though how well they can monetize that traffic is an open question.

With the Election Day coming on Nov. 3, the portion of U.S. adults who said they're following the election rose to 75% this month from a low of 52% in late April, around the time that interest in the outbreak peaked, according to Pew Research Center. The increase means that the share of people following the election is close to the 79% of survey respondents following the pandemic.

Some 80% of Americans will follow the results on election night either "very closely" or "fairly closely." Sixty-two percent of voters who support Democratic candidate Joe Biden will follow results after polls on Election Day very closely, compared with 59% of President Trump's supporters.

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A contested election could prolong that interest, amid the complications of tallying mail-in ballots that must be postmarked by Nov. 3. Ideally, there won't be a nightmarish month of recounting ballots and lawsuits contesting the results, as happened in 2000.

Unfortunately, publishers may not be able to monetize any increase in web traffic, with advertisers tending to block ad placements from appearing next to news about the politics and the pandemic.

"Trump" has been the most-blocked keyword by advertisers in their programmatic media buyers, adtech firm Integral Ad Sciences said last year. Blocking keywords like "coronavirus" has been a contentious issue since the pandemic began, with publishers fretting they have lost money simply for covering topics that interest readers.

The end of the election season likely will mean the pandemic remains a leading topic for news consumers until it subsides.

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