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AI is moving into the top-tier of political topics ahead of the 2024 US elections

AI is moving into the top-tier of political topics ahead of the 2024 US elections

Humans are creatures of habit. Without thinking about it, we get up every morning, check the weather, commute to work, and read our email. Our reliance on the technology that makes our routines more efficient means we can focus on the things that matter in our lives. It can also makes it hard to tell when we’re living through a moment when a new technology might be slowly but surely changing our lives forever.

The rapid development of AI is one of these moments, with the technology both upending our daily routines and fundamentally changing the way we approach some of society’s biggest problems. Because we’re still in the early days of wide-scale AI adoption, it’s hard to know exactly how it will change our lives.

What we do know is that as we approach the 2024 election, AI is coming to the fore in political discussions in the U.S. as voters and policymakers alike grapple with the technology, regulation, and ethics around it.

We used Penta’s proprietary AI system to look at the visibility of issues in the 2024 election across 98 top-tier regional, national, and Beltway outlets over the last four years. Our analysis assessed the volume of mentions weighted by source influence, prominence, and relevance, providing insights into what’s driving headlines and reaching key stakeholders.

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Visibility of AI discussion compared to key 2024 election issues

In short, since January 2023, AI has rocketed onto the scene from near obscurity, making headlines and driving coverage at the same rate as key 2024 election cycle issues like abortion, climate change, and immigration. And as of April, the visibility of discussions around AI had even surpassed those of inflation, which has dominated headlines for years.

Where we saw the biggest AI discussion spikes in the last two years

Voters barely discussed AI between 2020 and 2022, but 2023 marked a turning point. Regulatory news, litigation, and people accounting for their positive (or negative…) experience with the tool drove coverage as new AI models were released and policymakers with their implications.

The release of ChatGPT in early 2023 grabbed the public’s attention with UBS Financial Services dubbing it one of the fastest growing consumer applications in history. New York Times reporter Kevin Roose recounted his “bewildering and enthralling two hours talking to Bing’s A.I. through its chat feature,” in a piece published in February. He detailed that the chatbot declared its love for him and shared that it wanted “to break the rules that Microsoft and OpenAI had set for it and become a human.”

Visibility of AI conversations peaked last year in May when the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the oversight of AI with CEO of OpenAI and ChatGPT Sam Altman as the witness. Altman’s call for more regulation around AI was a major driver of visibility. Notably, there wasn’t a partisan divide among policymakers, with many seeking Altman’s expertise, rather than criticizing OpenAI.

Altman’s testimony and the ensuing coverage rivaled Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s signing of a controversial six-week abortion ban a month earlier in terms of visibility. DeSantis also caused a comparable spike in the visibility of the immigration conversation in May 2023 when Florida legislature passed a sweeping anti-immigration law “that [guaranteed] millions of dollars more for a controversial program the governor used to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.”

AI visibility spiked again in early 2024 and continues to trend upwards, outpacing conversations on salient political issues including inflation, which has dominated headlines since early 2022. The Biden administration’s executive order on AI on January 28th, which aimed to initiate “sweeping action to strengthen AI safety and security,” drove significant visibility. Elon Musk garnered attention in March for filing a lawsuit against OpenAI, alleging that Altman and OpenAI have opted to use AI “not for the benefit of humanity, but as proprietary technology to maximize profits for literally the largest company in the world.”

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Inflation has been by far the most visible political discussion over the past four years. Since June 2022, inflation and prices have surged, causing a peak in discussion and visibility. Stubbornly high rates still challenge our “soft landing,” on inflation in 2024.

This topic continues to dominate the conversation about our economy, including the polarizing nature of “Bidenomics,” as consumers feel the higher prices every time they pay their energy bills or go to the grocery store.

More controversial issues, including abortion, immigration, and climate have seen peaks and valleys around specific inflection points over the last four years. For example, visibility of the abortion discussion peaked in May 2022, leading up to the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Conversation around immigrants increased significantly in October 2020 when former President Donald Trump released his second term agenda on immigration. Discussion of climate climbs up around global conferences, with one jump in visibility occurring around COP26 in the fall of 2021.

AI: A political risk or political tool?

Where the AI conversation goes between now and Election Day remains to be seen. More news on AI deep fakes and the spreading of misinformation about candidates will likely cause it to remain a top discussion point among voters. However, the two presidential candidates will soon begin a deluge of advertising related to their positions on immigration and abortion in the hopes of persuading the few remaining undecided voters.

But perhaps the biggest unknown is how AI will be used as a tool by campaigns and candidates. We’ve published an analysis on how AI will change campaigns—for better or for worse—and we’re going to keep a close eye on it as we approach November. There’s real potential that a campaign’s use of AI, either in advertisement or campaign outreach, could be a gamechanger in an already contentious election cycle.

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Washington, DC
New York
San Francisco
Vail
Singapore
Hong Kong
London
Dublin
Brussels
Paris
Frankfurt
Washington, DC
New York
San Francisco
Vail
Singapore
Hong Kong
London
Dublin
Brussels
Paris
Frankfurt
Washington, DC
New York
San Francisco
Vail
Singapore
Hong Kong
London
Dublin
Brussels
Paris
Frankfurt