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These are Minnesota's most-discussed politicians (and why popularity isn't always good)

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Keith Ellison
Online, Keith Ellison is the most popular Minnesota politician. MPR News analyzed how articles on major candidates were passed around social media this election cycle. There aren't droves of fake news, but policy isn't often the focus these midterms.
David Zalubowski | AP 2016

If you're looking for substantive coverage of issues including health care, economic policy or education this midterm election, it's probably best to stay off social media.

The most popular article about a Minnesota politician in the past year of campaigning comes from a right-wing website called the Tennessee Star. It's about Keith Ellison and an abuse allegation from 13 years ago, which Minnesota news sources tried unsuccessfully to confirm years ago and which he denies. It's separate from the recent claim from Karen Monahan that many news outlets have covered, including MPR News

The partisan news site was trying to derail the Democratic congressman's run for Minnesota attorney general.

On social media, Ellison is Minnesota's most popular politician of the past year, an MPR News analysis finds. Behind him are Ilhan Omar, Amy Klobuchar, Jason Lewis and Tina Smith.

While every Minnesota race is different, much of the most-discussed coverage focuses on political mudslinging rather than policy. And high-profile candidates of color — Ellison and Omar — face racism and Islamophobia in coverage of their campaigns.

Some balanced news coverage rises to the top of the social media morass, but so do plenty of false or slanted articles from campaigns and questionable publishers alike. 

MPR News ran searches for candidates in this year's highest-profile contests using the web analytics tool Buzzsumo. It monitors major social networks for frequency of shares, comments and likes a link gets. 

After combining all activity surrounding an article, Buzzsumo creates what's called an engagement score, an aggregate measure for an article's popularity on social media. MPR News used the engagement score to rank how popular articles have been online. It ran a search the afternoon of Oct. 24 dating back through one year of articles. 

Here's a look at the big takeaways, plus links to our source material, for Minnesota's tightest contests: governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 8th congressional districts:


• Tim Walz, Democrat: Total articles: 297 | Engagement score: 72,434

• Jeff Johnson, Republican: Total articles: 541 | Engagement score: 77,227

This race has been fairly tame. The most popular article for both politicians is a Star Tribune piece on Walz leading Johnson in the MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. 

Also of note: Johnson has a couple successful articles posted by his campaign site, including one calling on Walz to explain his health care plan. These types of content give campaigns complete control over their message, with no outside vetting or fact-checking. 

Click here to view our source material.

U.S. Senate, special election

• Tina Smith, Democrat Total articles: 1,080 | Engagement score: 242,123 | Campaign spending: $7.3 million

• Karin Housley, Republican: Total articles: 187 |  Engagement score: 66,583 | Campaign spending: $3.7 million

The most popular content in this race, by far, is coverage of when Smith replaced Al Franken in the Senate, a time when the little-known politician was briefly in the national spotlight. 

Housley's most popular story came from her campaign website where she called for an investigation into alleged abuse by Keith Ellison. Another reason Housley made headlines was when news surfaced she had compared former first lady Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee in a Facebook post. 

Click here to view our source material.

Attorney general

• Keith Ellison, Democrat: Total articles: 3,971 | Engagement score: 3,375,196

• Doug Wardlow, Republican: Total articles: 90 | Engagement score: 47,204

This race's most popular stories focus on domestic abuse allegations against Ellison. The articles vary from straightforward news reporting to ideological pieces with questionable accuracy. 

For Wardlow's side, the most popular article is one showing him leading in one major poll

Click here to view our source material.

1st Congressional District

• Dan Feehan, Democrat: Total articles: 67 | Engagement score: 3,804 | Campaign spending: $2.8 million

• Jim Hagedorn, Republican: Total articles: 29 | Engagement score: 3,377 | Campaign spending: $1.2 million

On the Feehan side, stories about political advertisements lead the way. For Hagedorn, it's coverage of when Lara Trump campaigned on his behalf. 

Click here to view our source material.

2nd Congressional District

• Jason Lewis, Republican: Total articles: 555 | Engagement score: 300,467 | Campaign spending: $2.1 million

• Angie Craig, Democrat: Total articles: 101 | Engagement score: 15,162 | Campaign spending: $3.8 million

Lewis has had a number of popular articles, and most of them don't make him look good. The top two, both from CNN, show him calling people on government assistance "parasites," making a racist comment and mocking a woman who said she was traumatized by unwanted touching. 

Craig is far less popular online, her most popular coverage coming from Refinery29, a news site targeted for young women, and coverage of campaign ads. 

Click here to view our source material.

3rd Congressional District

• Erik Paulsen, Republican: Total articles: 207 | Engagement score: 35,743 | Campaign spending: $4.9 million

• Dean Phillips: Total articles: 211 | Engagement score: 27,842 | Campaign spending: $5 million

This campaign has been heavy on ads, and the most popular articles prove it. Paulsen's top is a piece on one of his ads, and Phillips' is a YouTube page for one of his commercials. 

Click here to view our source material.

8th Congressional District

• Pete Stauber, Republican: Total articles: 78 | Engagement score: 18,417 | Campaign spending: $1.2 million

• Joe Radinovich, Democrat: Total articles: 53 | Engagement score: 6,550 | Campaign spending: $1.6 million

For all the attention on this race, it has been rather quiet online. The most popular articles are on Stauber from Breitbart, the conservative news and opinion site which became prominent in the 2016 campaign. Radinovich's top article is a friendly profile from City Pages. 

Click here to view our source material.

Campaign spending data for congressional races is from ProPublica's Election DataBot and is current as of Oct. 26.