The Year in News 2017

Welcome to our fourth annual overview of the Year in News, where we summarize and visualize U.S. Twitter conversation about the biggest news stories of 2017. Social media conversation is a powerful window into the world of news. Using our Optimized Listening platform, we can track the level of public interest in a topic, understand how stories move among various audiences, and track who talked the most about what. This year, we analyzed over 2.839 billion U.S. tweets covering nearly 250 topics and issues. Additionally, we looked at conversation among three key audiences: conservative activists, liberal activists, and Beltway elites.

2017 was primarily a story about one man: President Donald Trump. He was tweeted about an estimated 901.8 million times in the United States, a doubling of last year figure and nearly ten times Barack Obama’s total of 91 million his last year in office. There were only 17 days in 2017 where Donald Trump was NOT the top topic of conversation, and he was the #1 story every week for every audience. Here’s how much Trump and other top political figures were mentioned in 2017:

Donald Trump —901,757,332 mentions
Barack Obama — 164,156,373
Hillary Clinton — 123,152,913
Bernie Sanders — 48,821,611
Mike Pence — 31,414,787

To paint a vivid picture of 2017 in the news, we set aside mentions of Donald Trump from our main visualizations. But his impact is felt on the other stories that dominated conversation, from his inauguration in January, to the #1 and #2 most discussed stories of the year: the Russia investigation and the attempt to repeal Obamacare.

The most discussed news stories of 2017 on Twitter

The Russia investigation — 180,433,480 mentions
Healthcare & the Affordable Care Act — 151,581,985
Immigration — 48,024,531
Hurricanes — 43,219,262
James Comey — 41,834,011
Sexual harassment scandals — 36,626,993
China — 36,189,391
Climate change & the Paris Agreement — 31,789,203
Guns — 29,936,649
North Korea — 28,224,456

Of course, knowing how much a story was talked about can’t tell us how it was talked about, and automated sentiment analysis is notoriously unreliable. What we’ve found works better is to understand who is talking. The more one group talks about an issue, the more they feel their side is winning.

This same principle applies to the overall volume of conversation as a barometer of partisan enthusiasm. The data we’ve collected from the same core political Twitter users we’ve been tracking since well before the 2016 election offers some striking findings. The shift left that started with Trump’s election has been dramatic: where conservatives and liberals were evenly matched in their share of the conversation in the run-up to the 2016 primaries, liberals today are about twice as likely to be active as conservatives.

This is reflected in the issues being discussed, including the Russia investigation and the successful attempt to derail Obamacare repeal. While liberals have been dominant for well over a year, the one time conservatives did overtake them is notable — the weeks leading up to Trump’s surprise victory.

The online enthusiasm gap tracks with the notion of a highly engaged Democratic base that is turning out at higher rates in special elections and is poised to make gains in the midterm elections. Can Democrats sustain this advantage, or will Republicans recover? If anything changes, the digital conversation is likely to tell us first.

Explore previous versions of The Year In News for 2016, 2015, and 2014.

For more information: Echelon Insights and Optimized Listening.