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How the first 2024 US presidential debate influenced Internet traffic and security trends


9 min read
How the first 2024 US presidential debate influenced Internet traffic and security trends

Key findings:

  • The Biden vs. Trump debate influenced Internet traffic at the state level in the US, with drops in traffic as high as 17% (in Vermont) during the debate.
  • Microblogging and video streaming platforms saw traffic changes during the debate.
  • Trump-related sites, including donation platforms, gained much more traction than Biden’s during and after the debate.
  • Emails with “Trump” in the subject had higher rates of spam and malicious content compared to those with “Biden.”
  • No increase in cyberattacks during the debate, but frequent DDoS attacks targeted government and political sites in the preceding months.

Internet traffic ebbs and flows usually follow human patterns, and high visibility events that are broadcast on TV usually have an impact. Let’s take a look at the first of the 2024 United States presidential debates between the two major presumptive candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, for the November presidential election.

2024 has been dubbed “the year of elections,” with elections taking place in over 60 countries, as we have mentioned before (1, 2, 3). We are regularly updating our election report on Cloudflare Radar, including analysis of recent elections in South Africa, India, Iceland, Mexico, and the European Union.

Typically, from what we usually observe, election days don’t come with highly intensive changes to Internet traffic, and the same is true for debates. Yet, debates can also draw attention that impacts traffic, especially when there is heightened anticipation. The 2024 debates are not only aired on broadcast and cable television but also streamed on platforms like YouTube, enhancing their reach and impact.

During the June 27, 2024, debate between Biden and Trump, hosted by CNN at 21:00 EST (01:00 UTC), Cloudflare noted a slight drop in nationwide Internet requests, falling to 2% below the same time a week prior at 21:15 EST (01:15 UTC). Interestingly, Internet traffic was 4% higher just before the debate started and surged to 6% above the previous week’s levels after the debate concluded at 23:45 EST (03:45 UTC).

Internet traffic dips across US states

Traffic shifts at the time of the debate, as compared to the previous week, are much more revealing at a state-level perspective than at the country level. The map below summarizes traffic changes observed at a state level:

The most significant traffic drops were seen in Vermont (-17%), South Dakota (-16%), Wyoming (-16%), and Alaska (-16%). More populous states like California, Texas, and New York saw milder reductions of between 5% and 6%, and Florida experienced a 9% drop at 21:45 local time (01:45 UTC) during the debate.

The six swing states that are said to be decisive in the election, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all saw traffic drop between 5% and 8%.

The initial minutes of the Biden vs. Trump debate triggered the largest traffic declines in most states, though several, including Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin, observed deeper dips midway through. States like Ohio and Missouri recorded their most substantial traffic drops towards the debate’s conclusion.

In the next table, we provide a detailed breakdown of the same perspective shown on the US map ordered by the magnitude of the drop in traffic. We include the time of the biggest traffic drop compared to the previous week, at a 5-minute granularity, and also the percentage of the drop compared to the previous week. (Illinois is not included due to data issues.)

State Drop in traffic (%) Time of drop in traffic (local) Time of drop in traffic (UTC)
Vermont -17% 21:00 1:00
Alaska -16% 17:30 1:30
South Dakota -16% 20:10 / 19:10 1:10
Wyoming -16% 19:25 1:25
New Hampshire -13% 21:05 1:05
Rhode Island -12% 21:05 1:05
Louisiana -11% 20:45 1:45
Massachusetts -11% 21:05 1:05
Connecticut -10% 21:30 1:30
Montana -10% 19:10 / 18:10 1:10
Nebraska -10% 20:05 / 19:05 1:05
Oklahoma -10% 20:05 1:05
Florida -9% 21:45 1:45
Georgia -8% 21:45 1:45
Nevada -8% 18:40 1:40
New Jersey -8% 21:05 1:05
Ohio -8% 22:25 2:25
Washington -8% 18:30 1:30
Kentucky -7% 21:15 1:15
North Carolina -7% 21:15 1:15
North Dakota -7% 20:10 / 19:10 1:10
Wisconsin -7% 20:45 1:45
California -6% 18:05 1:05
Iowa -6% 20:35 1:35
Kansas -6% 20:05 1:05
Maine -6% 21:05 1:05
Michigan -6% 21:05 1:05
Minnesota -6% 20:05 1:05
New Mexico -6% 19:10 1:10
Tennessee -6% 20:30 / 21:30 1:30
Alabama -5% 20:10 1:10
Arizona -5% 18:20 1:20
Arkansas -5% 20:25 1:25
Colorado -5% 19:15 1:15
Indiana -5% 21:10 1:10
New York -5% 21:25 1:25
Pennsylvania -5% 21:15 1:15
South Carolina -5% 21:35 1:35
Texas -5% 20:20 / 19:20 1:20
Idaho -4% 19:45 / 18:45 1:45
Utah -4% 19:05 1:05
Virginia -4% 21:05 1:05
Delaware -3% 21:05 1:05
Oregon -3% 18:15 1:15
West Virginia -3% 21:05 1:05
District of Columbia -2% 21:55 1:55
Hawaii -2% 15:20 1:20
Maryland -2% 21:10 1:10
Mississippi -2% 20:20 1:20
Missouri -2% 21:10 2:10
Illinois - - -

Switching focus to domain trends, our resolver data reveals a more targeted impact from the debate. Considering the candidates individually (using the official sites related to both candidates), we found that Biden-associated websites saw a 176% surge in DNS queries at around 23:00 EST (03:00 UTC), compared to the previous week.

However, Trump-associated sites saw a greater increase than Biden-associated sites, showing an increase before, during, and after the debate, with the peak growth reaching 803% over the previous week at 01:00 EST (05:00 UTC).

For donation sites, those linked to Biden were busiest before the debate on June 17 and 18, thanks to events with Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton. DNS traffic for Trump’s donation sites, as compared with the previous week, increased during the debate, growing 830% at 22:00 EST (02:00 UTC) and reaching a high of 1270% increase by 01:00 EST.

The debate aired on multiple TV channels and was streamed on YouTube. During the debate, video streaming platforms like TikTok and YouTube, which are among the top Internet services globally, saw a 4% increase in DNS traffic at 22:00 EST (02:00 UTC). Significant changes in DNS traffic on these platforms are uncommon due to their widespread popularity.

Political news sites also spiked, with a 68% traffic increase around 22:00 EST (02:00 UTC).

Microblogging social platforms like X or Threads outperformed their previous week’s traffic throughout the debate day, with growth peaking at 41% at the start of the debate around 21:00 EST (01:00 UTC).

Biden vs Trump: spam and malicious emails

In June 2024 (through June 27), Cloudflare’s Cloud Email Security service processed over 2.5 million emails containing “Biden” or “Trump” in the subject line. Trump-related subjects appeared 13% more often than those related to Biden. Moreover, emails with “Trump” had higher percentages of spam, at 3%, and malicious messages, at 0.6%, compared to 0.8% for spam and 0.2% for malicious messages with “Biden.”

The peak occurrence of spam emails with “Trump” was on June 9, at 19.8%, and the highest rate of malicious messages was on June 12, at 2.9%. For “Biden,” the highest spam rate was on June 21, at 1.2%, and the peak for malicious messages was also on June 9, at 0.8%.

Attacks: government and political impact

Focusing on attacks, those are usually constant, and aren’t necessarily driven always by elections. But, as we’ve seen at the start of the war in Ukraine or more recently in the Netherlands, events do trigger attacks. Already in June 2024, during the European elections, we recently published a blog post about the cyberattack on Dutch political-related websites that lasted two days – June 5 and 6. The main DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service attack) attack on June 5, the day before the Dutch election, reached 73,000 requests per second (rps).

Shifting our focus to the US in particular, in the weeks since April 2024, we’ve seen some DDoS attacks targeting both government, state or political-related websites in the United States. That said, we haven’t seen any substantial attacks targeting political sites during the day of debate, June 27. The most recent one we saw was this week, on June 24, and targeted a think tank that does policy advocacy related to presidential politics. It was a small attack that lasted under 10 minutes and peaked at 35,000 requests per second (rps).

Now that we’ve explored the US presidential debate trends, let’s compare it with Internet trends from other debates in the UK and France from the week of June 24, 2024.

UK and France: debates with an impact

In other countries like the UK and France, election-related debates during the week of June 24 also serve as examples for comparison with the Biden vs Trump debate. Both the UK and France experienced more significant nationwide traffic impacts during their debates compared to the US. However, the geographic and population size of the US, coupled with the debate’s broad availability on streaming platforms, could have influenced this disparity.

In France, the snap election is scheduled for Sunday, June 30, 2024, and the runoff on July 7, 2024. The final debate among the leading candidates on Tuesday, June 25, 2024 (21:00 local time), led to a 14% drop in Internet HTTP requests, as it was broadcast nationally and carried broad interest. Despite this, the UEFA Euro 2024 football match between France and Poland on the same day, at 18:00 local time, caused an even greater traffic decrease of 16%.

The following day, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, the two main candidates for the snap UK general election — scheduled for July 4, 2024 — participated in their final debate on BBC national TV. The debate between Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer, which started at 20:15 local time, resulted in a 7% drop in UK Internet traffic compared to the previous week. The most significant decrease occurred at 20:45. At a more detailed level, Wales experienced an 11% drop during the debate, followed by England at 8%, Scotland at 7%, and Northern Ireland at 5%.

Conclusion: high intensity election year

Even if major political events don’t always bring significant changes to Internet traffic, our data shows that the Biden vs. Trump debate had an impact, especially at the state level. Microblogging and video streaming social platforms also saw traffic shifts during the debate, with Trump-related sites seeing larger spikes in DNS traffic than Biden-related sites, especially after the debate.

We also observed a higher percentage of spam and malicious emails sent with “Trump” in the subject of the messages than with “Biden.” Although we didn’t see an uptick in cyberattacks during the debate, we note that these have been frequent, especially DDoS attacks in the months before, targeting both federal and state government services as well as politically related sites.

If you want to follow more trends and insights about the Internet and elections in particular, you can check Cloudflare Radar, and more specifically our new 2024 Elections Insights report, which will be updated as elections take place throughout the year.

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João Tomé|@emot

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