Voters are watching the 2016 presidential race play out on YouTube.
Since April 2015, more than 110 million hours of candidates talking and issues-related political content has been watched on YouTube, the video streaming service owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., the parent company announced in a report Thursday.
To put that into perspective, YouTube estimates that to be equal to watching every piece of content ever aired on CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC and Fox News combined — 100 times.
A spokesperson for Google said YouTube does not have similar data for the 2012 presidential race.
The sky-high numbers do not surprise Tom Galido – the head of data and insights at ZEFR, a video ID technology company, which analyzes YouTube content. For clips of billionaire businessman Donald Trump alone, ZEFR tracked 95 million views last week.
People are searching for the candidates and finding debate clips, news stories, ads, and user-made content. Though, for Mr. Trump, ZEFR reports the majority of the clips watched in the past week were of disruptions at rallies, specifically the March 12 rally in Dayton, Ohio, where Mr. Trump was startled by a protester and quickly surrounded by Secret Service.
YouTube reports those using it as a news source are primarily young: 59% are under the age of 35, 15% are 35-44 years old, and 26% are over 44.
Candidates are spending money on YouTube, the world’s largest video streaming service, for prime space. Since October 2015, YouTube reports that there has been a 294% increase in paid views from candidate-related videos–videos that were used in ads, such as pre-rolls before other videos. Ahead of the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, YouTube essentially sold out of reserve ad inventory, a first for YouTube in Iowa and New Hampshire.
More than to view ads though, voters are taking to YouTube to research candidate positions. The biggest topics people are searching for on YouTube related to the election are refugees and immigration. Searches for refugees on YouTube are up 224% since April 2015, when Sen. Ted Cruz had entered the race. Searches for immigration are next, up 51% since April 2015, followed by gun control, up 27%.
In February, immigration videos were one of the top topics-related videos watched for all candidates. The only candidate for whom immigration wasn’t at the top of the list was Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Instead, voters queried the Republican’s stance on gun control first, then same-sex marriage, then immigration.
Voters have even turned to YouTube to figure out how to caucus in Iowa. Searches for “how to caucus” in the state were up 363% on the day of the Iowa caucus compared to the day prior. Both Mr. Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders published video explainers on the topic, capitalizing on the search traffic.
In his analysis, Mr. Galido said he is not seeing a split on party lines, i.e. former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders are not competing directly for views. Instead, voters are curious about the race as a whole and using YouTube as a place to come for information.
“Even the Democrats are watching Donald Trump because it’s been such a circus,” he said.
For Mr. Sanders, also a highly-searched candidate, according to ZEFR, the message tends to be positive. His most-watched videos are parodies of the Vermont senator on “Saturday Night Live” and the videos have a friendly tone.
“Bernie Sanders is all about hope and that grassroots support, Donald Trump is all about chaos,” Mr. Galido said, referencing videos posted about the candidates.