As political season heats up, Politico’s Web traffic cools down

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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New independent circulation numbers show a sharp decline in readership of Politico and other left-leaning news websites, an ominous trend for the suburban Virginia-based news outlet and its peers as Americans head into an election year.

Recently published and publicly available Web traffic data indicates that “unique visitor” traffic to in November 2011 was 15 percent lower than in the previous month, and 31 percent lower than in November 2010. The data, from Compete, Inc., also show an overall two-year decline.

Political websites gain and lose readers throughout election cycles, with presidential election years trending higher in unique Web traffic when compared to off-years and midterm elections. Web traffic analysts told The Daily Caller that’s traffic patterns should be expected to fit that mold: With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, unique traffic should increase.

But Politico’s traffic losses appear to be part of a year-long trend on the political left. Media Matters For America’s website, for instance, lost 56.83 percent of its unique visitors between November 2010 and November 2011. In the same 12-month period, Talking Points Memo lost 41 percent, Wonkette was down by 32 percent, Gawker declined by 31 percent, Salon decreased by 22 percent and progressive blog Daily Kos shed 18 percent of its unique visitors.

Other political news sites, including some decidedly not left-leaning, have seen dramatic increases in unique visitors in the year-long period ending Nov. 30.’s numbers increased by 247 percent, The Daily Caller’s by 124 percent, and The Huffington Post’s by 113 percent. More modest performers during those same 12 months included The Blaze (up 57 percent), The Washington Times (up 47 percent), Slate (up 40 percent), the Washington Post (up by 38 percent) and the Christian Science Monitor (up 33 percent).

Politico’s downturn in unique visitors during November 2011 is remarkable since its marquee reporting moment during the GOP primary campaign — a story about businessman Herman Cain’s past alleged incidents of sexual harassment — first appeared online late on the night of October 30. Politico followed that initial story with another 90 during the following week.

Data from Alexa, Inc., indicate that saw a traffic spike after the Cain story broke, but Compete and Alexa data show that it was temporary. Ultimately, Politico’s sustained assault on Cain may have turned off as many readers as it drew in, even as the news outlet’s reporters and editors saw heavy rotation on liberal news network MSNBC during the scandal’s early days. MSNBC’s unique visitors in November were dead-even with its October numbers.

Dr. Tim Groseclose, author of “Left Turn: How the Liberal Media Distorts the American Mind,” told The Daily Caller he thought Politico’s liberal bias was verifiable.

“Yes, I think Politico has moved leftward recently,” said Groseclose. “I used to think they were pretty centrist.”

Groseclose, a PhD. in political science at UCLA, conducted research for his book using the standard roll call analyses used to assess the ideology of politicians, and comparing journalists’ writing against those politicians’ speeches. The research, Groseclose told TheDC, was then analyzed by a computer to create objective assessments.

The Washington Post and The Daily Caller have both been critical of Politico for shrouding its circulation and traffic numbers in uncertainty.

TheDC found that the majority of Politico’s Internet readership comes from Washington, D.C. and the nearby surrounding area.

A Politico spokesperson, however, previously told TheDC, “We stand by our numbers.” Politico, according to the spokesperson, counts “every single hit” to its site, also raising the possibility that users who visit on the same day from multiple locations — including smartphones, tablets, and home and office PCs — could be inflating the site’s unique-visitor counts.

Previous traffic research by The Daily Caller found that metrics from traffic-measurement sites vary, but Compete was the only one which did not change its methodology during the past year, providing the most consistent and reliable assessments of traffic shifts over longer periods of time.

Compete, Inc. surveys a pool of 2 million Web surfers and weighs its statistics against a number of variables, including visits from the same visitor across multiple platforms. Other traffic measurement sites use similar metrics.

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