Brainpower: How did Americans React when the U.S. Government Shut Down?

|Alex Bennett

On October 1st 2013, the U.S. government entered the third-longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Curious to better understand the reaction from Americans as their government shut down indefinitely, we turned to our data on content consumption patterns across our network of 100k+ sites over this time period.

First, we looked at how much content from the politics category Americans consumed before and after the announcement of the shutdown. Nationally, we saw a 300% increase in page views on politics content on October 1st, relative to the previous Tuesday, September 24th. The map below illustrates what this boost looked like for each state, with darker colors indicating bigger changes and lighter colors indicating smaller changes:



Georgia, Connecticut and Massachusetts showed the largest increases in political content consumption; while D.C., Wyoming and Colorado showed the smallest increases (D.C. and Wyoming were consuming the most political content of any states prior to October 1st which could explain the smaller changes seen in those states).

Next, we looked at how Americans consumed the 22,181 stories that were published about the shutdown (we determined which pieces of content were related to the shutdown by titles keywords and the publish date, August 1st – October 15th 2013).

Of all states, D.C., Maryland and Virginia consumed these stories most heavily (1% of total page views in each state between Sept. 16th and Oct. 15th), while North Dakota, Connecticut, and Minnesota consumed these stories most lightly (.5% of total page views in each state over this time period).

Using data from a 2012 Gallup survey, we found a strong correlation between the percentage of state residents employed by the government and the extent to which states consumed these shutdown stories:

Goverment Workers and Shutdown


Next, we took a look at how the U.S. as a whole consumed these shutdown-related stories over time (from a week before it was announced until it ended):

Shutdown Consumption


We can see that consumption peaked on the day the shutdown began, reaching 7% of total U.S. page views, but quickly fell to less than 1% for the remainder of the 16 day shutdown. We wondered whether this trend was driven by all Americans, or perhaps more so by some groups than others. So, we used Gallup survey data from 2012 to uncover what this consumption trend line looked like for Democratic vs. Republican states:

Shutdown Consumption by Party


As you can see in the above chart, the trend lines for the 2 opposing parties turned out to be nearly identical. We saw the same pattern when looking at how the 2 parties consumed content covering specific political issues (healthcare, social, and economic issues) over this time period (i.e., Democratic and Republican consumption rates quickly declined once the shutdown began). It appears that the parties at the very least share in common an extreme loss of interest in the shutdown and related issues following its announcement, or worse, a loss of hope.

Since healthcare was a core issue contributing to the shutdown, we decided to dig a bit deeper into how Americans consumed content covering this topic. Again using title keywords, we identified 81,028 pieces of content that were published between early August and mid October in relation to U.S. healthcare (33,197 on Obamacare, 6,832 on Medicare/Medicaid, 5,864 on the Affordable Care Act, and the rest on healthcare in general).

We found that the more states disapprove of Obama, the more of these healthcare-related stories they consumed during the government shutdown:

Obama Disapproval and Healthcare


Also, the more states lean to the right, the more of these healthcare-related stories they consumed during the shutdown:

Convervatives and Healthcare


This data shows that disagreement with Obama’s healthcare approach and its underlying ideology is strongly tied to the consumption of healthcare-related stories during the shutdown, possibly reflecting the tendency to reaffirm our negative opinions.

Lastly, we looked at the consumption of stories specifically covering the Affordable Care Act, as it relates to the prevalence of uninsured state residents:

Insurance and ACA


Unsurprisingly, states with more than 10% of residents uninsured showed much more interest in ACA stories than states with less than 10% of residents uninsured.

Content consumption data of this scale offers a powerful lens into what makes people tick and how events like this unfold. Be sure to check back here as we continue to put our lens to use!

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Alex Bennett

Alex Bennett

Alex is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Outbrain, where she is responsible for extracting and delivering data-driven insights to content... Read more

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