App Store Data Offers Unique Insights into the 2016 Presidential Race

Sensor Tower visualizes the candidates' earned media and the effect of debate coverage on news app downloads.

Presidential Primaries App Store Analysis Hero Image

Politics and the app marketplace might not appear to have have clear common ground—ongoing legal cases between certain tech giants and the government notwithstanding—but research conducted by Sensor Tower has proven otherwise. Inspired by the ongoing 2016 presidential primary season, our team wanted to see what effect the candidates and their campaigns are having on the app stores. We analyzed the data and some intriguing insights started to form.

About Our Data

To create this report, the Sensor Tower mobile insights team utilized data from our Store Intelligence and App Intelligence platforms, which provide download estimates and keyword research data, respectively. We focused on the U.S. App Store and Google Play exclusively for the first two charts that appear in this article, while the second two are entirely based on U.S. App Store data.

Debates Drive News App Downloads—Republican More than Democratic

For starters, we wanted to look at the debates themselves. There's a great deal of attention put on debate viewership numbers during the presidential primaries, but at Sensor Tower we've also noticed some interesting patterns in App Store downloads during the debate season. You can see what we discovered in the chart below (click for a larger version):

Effect 2016 Presidential Primary Debates on News App Downloads

Click the chart above to view a larger version.

Looking at the News category apps of the debate sponsors, we see a substantial increase from their baseline install rates the day of the debate. While most people will tune in to the television, radio, or even the mobile web for their debate coverage, we're seeing large numbers of users install new applications for the first time to engage with the debate.

We've annotated the debates above that coincide with the spikes seen in installs. It's not surprising that the sponsor of the debate typically sees the most dramatic jump in its app installs, but all news apps tend to see an increase in downloads on debate nights as the public looks to follow the debate from their publication of choice.

The earliest debates drove the most installs, with the number declining as the weeks went on (an install is a one-time event and the most diehard debate watchers got onboard early). However, we've seen new installs increasing in recent weeks as the races have tightened. You can also see this in the next chart, which visualizes news app installs by debate type (Republican or Democratic). The apps analyzed for this chart were: ABC News, CBS News, CBS Radio News, CNBC, CNN, Election HQ 2016, Fox Business, Fox News, Fox News Radio, and MSNBC.

Republican vs. Democratic Debates - News App Downloads

Based on the data above, we were able to determine that the representative group of news apps we studied from the sponsoring networks saw an average of 42,000 downloads on the day of Democratic debates, while on the day of Republican debates they averaged 52,000 downloads, an increase of 24 percent. An average figure was used because Republican debates outnumbered Democratic debates during the period we studied.

Trump Leads in App Store Earned Media

As the New York Times reported this week, Donald Trump has garnered the most media attention of the 2016 presidential candidates despite a relatively small advertising budget. Where Trump has excelled is in his ability to garner earned media—i.e., media that is not bought with advertising dollars. Using Sensor Tower's App Store Intelligence, we wanted to look at the landscape within the Apple App Store. With the likes of the free-to-play game "Trump Dump" reaching the 10th position in the iOS Top Charts in recent weeks, it's clear that the Trump name is making noise in the App Store.

We first looked at how many related apps were returned when searching for each candidate's full name. The results (below) were in line with what we've seen in other reports from mediaQuant—a firm that attempts to measure media coverage—namely that Trump is significantly ahead of his competition when it comes to earned media.

Our analysis of App Store data bore this out. The following chart ranks the candidates by the number of apps on the store directly related to them:

Presidential Candidates - Earned Media on the App Store

Apps relating to Donald Trump numbered 171 as of March 16, followed by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at 66 and 65 apps, respectively. The two remaining Republican candidates, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, have 25 and two, respectively. Former candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are tied at eight, while Ben Carson, like Kasich, has two.

Digging deeper into Trump's App Store presence, the chart below shows the growth in the number of apps returned when searching for "Trump" on Apple's store. While the keyword "Trump" can relate to more than just "Donald Trump," we found every app in the top 10 to be directly related to Donald Trump. This data also sheds light on other app developers using his name for marketing purposes by attempting to get surfaced in the search results for a trending keyword.

Search Results for Trump on the App Store Over Time

It should be noted that the large increase in apps ranking for the "Trump" keyword between November and December may be related to the rollout of an updated App Store algorithm during that period. Regardless of this, it's clear that as Trump has gained momentum during the primaries, so has the use of the keyword.

We'll be continuing to track the impact of the 2016 election on the app stores and will bring you more insights as we discover them.

Sensor Tower's platform is an enterprise-level offering. Interested in learning more?

Wes McCabe

Written by: Wes McCabe, Product Marketing Manager

Date: March 2016

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