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Media trends ahead of the Presidential Election

SocialFlow CEO Jim Anderson joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the top searches across the country ahead of the Presidential election and what it means for voter sentiment.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. Data is a tool. It's not always the answer, but it's a tool when you're trying to figure things out. And of course, the question you ask with that data becomes very important.

So let's invite into the stream somebody who understands how to ask those questions so that you get the right answers based on the data you're collecting. That's Jim Anderson. He's CEO of SocialFlow. And we should point out that Yahoo Finance and Verizon Media group are clients of SocialFlow.

But you take all of that data-- and we're talking about billions of bits of information. And you can tell us, before we all head to the polls-- some of us went early. Before people go to the poll-- well, 95 million of us went early. But before people go to the polls tomorrow, the topics that people are interested in regarding this election. And the number one topic is-- drum roll, please. Take it away, Jim.

JIM ANDERSON: Thanks, Adam. It's coronavirus, and not surprisingly. And, you know, that's been relatively consistent. You know, what we do is, you know, as most of the big media companies, including Verizon, which we appreciate, publish using SocialFlow out to Facebook and Twitter, we see a lot of traffic, and we see what people are interested and what kinds of media, in aggregate, that they consume.

And that's really interesting because when you ask people what they're interested in and what motivates them, you know, you'll get one set of answers. When you actually sort of watch passively the behavior and the types of content they click on, you get a different answer. And of course, coronavirus is a huge topic. I'm not suggesting that's not the case at all.

But when Pew Research went and said, hey, what issues are most important to you when it comes to the election? Healthcare was one. Coronavirus specifically was one. The economy, though, was really the number one answer. When you ask people, the economy is the most important.

But when you actually look at the media they consume, they're not really reading stories about the economy, at least nearly to the same degree that they're consuming stories about the coronavirus. So it's one of those interesting questions that makes you say, hmm, are people going to vote the way that they consume media? Or does it turn out the coronavirus really is a lot more important to them than they say? And, you know, I guess we'll find out starting tomorrow.

SEANA SMITH: Jim, do we have any historical data on that, just in terms of what drives people at the polls? Like, if you were to make a guess right now whether or not it would be the economy or if it would be coronavirus, what would be your best guess?

JIM ANDERSON: Well, it's interesting. We do have historical data, but we don't have it on coronavirus, I guess, thankfully, right? Four years ago, we looked at this kind of data. And of course, the economy was a big issue, and very different candidates. You had president-- oh, well, not president-- candidate Trump and Hillary Clinton.

So, a very different set of circumstances, but I would say a more traditional set of issues. You know, it's the Supreme Court, the economy, healthcare broadly, but certainly not driven by the pandemic. So I think this is unprecedented.

And if you look at the times series charts, you know, as over the past month or so, you know, of course, there was a giant spike at the beginning of October in terms of coronavirus media consumption because that's when President Trump was diagnosed. I mean, it just sort of quadrupled the interest and the consumption of media because it was the biggest story in the world, arguably.

And then it tapered off, of course, after he sort of got well and resumed his campaigning and went back to what I would call a dull roar. But that dull roar is still more click interest from consumers than all of the other topics combined.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Jim, I'm a child of the rotary phone era, and I will admit-- time for true confessions-- I used to lie when pollsters would call. This was a previous life in Cleveland, Ohio. I would give them all the wrong answers, and I would really overstate my income. So gosh knows how I might have ruined some polls in the past.

But data don't lie-- unless you got a VPN, right? What are we saying on different kinds of issues? For instance, stories about race and inequality, those have been the headlines going back to, well, for quite a long time. Does it hold? Or do you see it peak and then fall?

JIM ANDERSON: It peaks and then falls. I mean, that's the thing that's so unusual about coronavirus, is, of course, it peaks, but it doesn't really fall by nearly as much. You knw, issues about race and ethnic inequality and Supreme Court-- I'll pick those as two very good topics. You know, when something happens, when something notable happens, you will get a spike.

But Supreme Court is an example. Obviously, with the sort of confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, that was a big issue. It's still got nowhere near the same size as coronavirus. And then a couple of days later, it went back down.

Before Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, I'll say the Supreme Court was almost just sort of at the bottom of the list in terms of consumer interest. There weren't a lot of stories being written about the Supreme Court. There was not a lot of consumption.

And it's a little bit of a chicken or the egg thing. Are people not writing about it because they're not interested? Or are they're not interested because they're not writing? You've been in the media business long enough to know that if people are interested, the media will cover it. So, you know, those types of issues, they become really intensely important for a brief period of time. And then it sort of goes back to normal.

SEANA SMITH: Jim, getting back to what you were saying just about the economy and the importance of where we stand at this point in the 2020 presidential election, the swing states specifically, what swing seats, do you think, are the most focused on the economy and where it stands at this point?

JIM ANDERSON: Yeah, that's a great question. So, you know, all of these aggregate numbers, you know, there's a really interesting result about North Dakota. But nobody really has a serious question about how North Dakota is going to vote in the presidential election. So what you really have to do is narrow it down.

And when you look at those swing states, and specifically, the economy, you end up with Michigan actually sort of leading the pack. And that's maybe not surprising, given the strong auto industry ties and the legacy of economic issues-- you know, very unfortunate economic issues in recent history.

Surprisingly, though, you know, Florida sort of pops up a little bit, whereas, you know, places like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin, not so much. That doesn't mean that they're not important. Of course, the economy's important to everybody. Jobs, unemployment, those kinds of things are very important to people.

But relative to other things and relative to other battleground states, Michigan, Pennsylvania sort of secondarily, and Florida really come out as the three battleground states that are most interested in showing most of the interest in the economy.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So Jim, let me bring this back to the beginning. I want to put you on the spot. I hope you'll forgive me, and I hope you'll come back after I do it. You've seen the data. Who's going to win? What's it telling you?

JIM ANDERSON: Very nice job putting me on the spot. I'm not going to touch that one with a 10-foot pole. Let's see how the polls come in. I'd say all the votes need to be counted. It'll be very clear who wins. And, you know, this data, I would not suggest, is going to tell me exactly who wins.

ADAM SHAPIRO: How important, real quick, is the question you ask, though, with data? My brother, who comes from your field, always says people misinterpret data because they don't know how to ask the question.

JIM ANDERSON: Yeah, that is a great point by your brother. Your brother is very smart. So you've got to be very careful with this data. You know, our data is more passive data. So what we do is we take all of the millions and millions of posts that are published in SocialFlow, the clicks that come back through, and then we see. We aggregate, anonymize, and sort of look at them on a state by state basis.

What that says, it's a snapshot in time of consumer interests. That may or may not correlate to voting. And you've got to be real careful about taking a dataset, and wildly extrapolating, and saying, wow, because I see this behavior about the economy, that means Michigan's most interested, and that means they're going to vote this way. You do that, you'll oftentimes get burned.

I do think, in hindsight, when we look back and we want to do some analytical studies and say, how did what we see ahead of time correlate with the way people actually voted, then you can start to develop some really interesting models that maybe can be more predictive moving forward.