Measuring Our 'Not Normal' and 'Divisive' Times
It seems not a day goes by in the Trump Era without the media mentioning that we live in a “divided nation” amid “not normal” times. Just two weeks ago, one MSNBC host even warned that the attorney general’s remarks on the Mueller investigation were “so potentially dangerous to the institutions of law and justice that we don’t want to air it without a disclaimer: What you’re about to hear … is not normal.” To what degree are these sentiments a product of Trump presidency?
The timeline below shows the percentage of airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News by month since June 2009 that mentioned the phrase “not normal” using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive processed by the GDELT Project.
Immediately clear is that the term began to take off after July 2016 when Trump became the Republican presidential nominee. Unsurprisingly, the term is heard primarily on CNN and MSNBC, with Fox News mentioning it little more than it did in the pre-Trump era.
Looking to “divisive” or “divisions” or “divided,” the timeline below shows usage of the three terms began rising sharply in early 2016, surging through Trumps’ July 2016 nomination and peaking again with his November 2016 election. In the years since then the terms have been used at more than double their previous rate, ebbing and flowing with his major policy decisions.
Interestingly, Trump’s presidency does not appear to have brought with it any increase in the traditional phrase “right wing.” As seen in the timeline below, CNN shows a slightly increased usage of the term while Fox shows no change.
MSNBC, on the other hand, previously used the term more than three times as often as the other two channels until July 2014, at which point the station began to sharply reduce its usage. It is unclear what precisely led to this significant change, though 2015 was marked by a major public shift from opinion programming towards more hard news coverage, so this may represent MSNBC’s first steps in this transition.
Putting this all together, at least in the eyes of television news, we are living in “divided” and “not normal” times, but this time it is not the “right wing” taking over the country and causing those perceptions.