The pieces on which readers lingered the longest
TWO events this year pushed all else off the news agenda, at least for our readers. Where last year’s list of most-read articles featured a mix of politics, finance, science, demography and culture, this year’s is dominated by Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Between them, these two stories account for half of the ten most-read articles on economist.com in 2016.
When not parsing populism, our readers also studied the embattled politicians trying to tame it, notably Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Inequality was on their minds, too: in the skies, as airlines introduced a class below economy; and on the screen, when no black actor received an Oscar nomination for the second year running. The full top ten list appears below; click on the titles or the images to read the articles in full.
1. A tragic split
June 24th | Leaders
Cyprus may have missed its last chance for reunification
Convincing injured tennis players to withdraw is a tricky matter
Can a baker refuse to make a gay wedding cake?
Triple-doubles in basketball reflect selfishness as well as versatility
The International Criminal Court finds that South Africa broke the law
Donald Trump’s speech could have been written by Poland’s populists
The article on which our readers spent the most time in 2016 was the leader written in the wake of Britain’s momentous vote to leave the European Union. On the morning of June 24th we wrote, “Managing the aftermath, which saw the country split by age, class and geography, will need political dexterity in the short run; in the long run it may require a redrawing of traditional political battle-lines and even subnational boundaries. There will be a long period of harmful uncertainty.” Six months later, those words remain true.
2. Time to fire Trump
February 27th | Leaders
Our most-read piece about Donald Trump came before he secured the Republican nomination for president, and well before his triumph in November. Though his rise appalled us (“the front-runner is unfit to lead a great political party, let alone America”), we did not discount his chances of becoming president altogether. We noted that “Mr Trump’s political persona is more flexible than that of any professional politician, which means he can take it in any direction he wants to. And whoever wins the nomination for either party will have a decent chance of becoming America’s next president: the past few elections have been decided by slim margins in a handful of states.” Yet despite our calm reasoning, we did not see his victory coming.
3. America’s airlines are introducing a class below economy
February 23rd | Gulliver
Airlines have long profited from charging an arm and a leg for first- and business class while allowing the masses too little room for limbs of any kind. But why stop there? “Economy class”, they have realised, can itself be subdivided, and then subdivided again. First there was the creation of “premium economy”, which charges flyers extra for what used to be basic amenities. Now a new class is coming: “basic economy”, also known as “last class”. Travellers are willing to suffer all sorts of discomfort and inconvenience for a lower fare. This year America’s airlines decided to give them what they wished for.
4. How racially skewed are the Oscars?
January 21st | Prospero
For all 20 actors nominated for an Oscar to be white could be a coincidence. For it to occur two years running is, to many, a scandal, especially in years when many films with black actors were possible contenders (“Straight Outta Compton”, “Creed” and “Beasts of No Nation” among them). According to analysis by The Economist, the number of black actors winning Oscars this century has been in line with the size of America’s black population. Yet this does not mean Hollywood has no problems of prejudice. Hispanics, for example, are notably under-represented.
5. The last big frontier
August 6th | United States
A migration of staunch conservatives and doomsday-watchers to America’s north-west has been quietly gathering steam. Thousands have moved to the “American Redoubt” (mostly Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) to soothe their fears of widespread social unrest, creeping government authoritarianism or nuclear war. Some firms sell off-grid homes in the mountainous, forested region; others train people to set up their own food-producing fortress-homesteads. The frontier spirit of America’s Old West is still alive and well here.
6. A background guide to Brexit
February 24th | Graphic detail
In the run-up to the Brexit referendum, our data team published a primer. It laid out the case for and against leaving the European Union, and included a series of charts showing Britain’s rising migration rate, its trade relationship with the continent, measures of regulation across the EU, and political realities in Westminster. Yet in a campaign that will be remembered for the phrase “people in this country have had enough of experts”, uttered by Michael Gove, a Leave campaigner and Conservative party politician, these facts held less sway than emotion.
7. The Trump Era
November 12th | Leaders
“America has voted not for a change of party so much as a change of regime,” we wrote in the week that Mr Trump was elected America’s president, adding: “we are deeply sceptical that he will make a good president—because of his policies, his temperament and the demands of political office.” His election, we wrote, was a rebuff to all liberals, including this newspaper. In response, the long, hard job of winning the argument for liberal internationalism must begin anew.
8. Hating Hillary
October 22nd | United States
Two weeks before election day, we asked why “America’s probable next president” was so deeply reviled. Most Americans view her unfavourably. And yet many former rivals and colleagues speak of her glowingly. Few other politicians have a public image so at odds with the judgment of their peers. The notion that Mrs Clinton’s unpopularity is fuelled by sexism annoys her critics almost as much as she does. But it is otherwise hard to explain the gap between the measured criticism her behaviour sometimes invites and the unbridled loathing that has shown up in its place.
9. The Way Ahead
October 8th | Briefing
On the eve of his final 100 days in office, Barack Obama wrote for us about four areas of unfinished business in economic policy that his successor will have to tackle: productivity and wages; inequality; labour-force participation and preventing the next economic crisis. None of those has changed with the election of Mr Trump.
10. Trump’s triumph
May 7th | Leaders
After Indiana’s primary on May 3rd, it was clear that Republicans would be led into the presidential election by a man who says he will kill terrorists’ families, encourages violence by his supporters, indulges wild conspiracy theories and subscribes to a set of protectionist and economically illiterate policies that are both fantastical and self-harming. “Fortunately,” we wrote, “Mr Trump will probably lose the general election,” while conceding that “there is the possibility that he might just win.” It turned out to be more than just a possibility. The first month of 2017 will see Mr Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States.