CNN's Coverage vs. 2020 Issues Viewers Deem Important

CNN's Coverage vs. 2020 Issues Viewers Deem Important
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
CNN's Coverage vs. 2020 Issues Viewers Deem Important
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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In the lead-up to this week’s Democratic presidential debates, CNN published the results of an online poll that asked its readers which topics were the most important for them to hear the candidates talk about. Comparing the results of this poll against the station’s coverage thus far this year suggests significant differences in priorities.

Each of CNN’s polling topics was compared against the news channel’s television coverage from Jan. 1, 2019 through July 31, 2019, using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive as processed by the GDELT Project. Each topic was translated into a set of keywords that appeared to capture as much as possible of the station’s coverage around that topic. In order of priority in the CNN poll, the topics and their associated keywords were:

Climate Crisis (“climate change” and “global warming”); Economy (“economy” or “economic” or “economics”); Health Care (“health care” or “healthcare” or “health insurance” or “health insurers”); Immigration (“immigrants” or “immigrants” or “illegals”); Income Inequality (“rich” or “inequality” or “middle class” or “poor”); Impeachment (“impeach” or “impeaching” or “impeached” or “impeachment”.

Foreign Policy (“foreign policy”); Gun Violence (“guns” or “firearms” or “gun” or “machinegun” or “machine gun” or “firearm” or “handgun” or “machineguns” or “machine guns” or “handguns” or “hand gun” or “hand guns”); Student Debt (“student debt” or “student loans” or “free college” or “free education”); Race Relations (“racism” or “racist” or “racists” or “race relations” or “supremacists” or “supremacy”), Education (“education” or “school” or “schools” or “college” or “colleges” or “university” or “universities” or “higher education”).

Taxes (“taxes” or “taxation” or “tax”); LGBTQ Rights (“gay” or “lesbian” or “transgender” or “gays” or “lesbians” or “transgenders” or “queer” or “LBGT” or “LBGTQ”), Abortion (“abortion” or “abortions”); Criminal Justice (“criminal justice”); Trade (“trade” and “government” or “Trump” or “House” or “Congress” or “China” or “free”); and Pay Equity (“pay” and “equity” or “equal”).

The graph below shows the final results of this analysis, capturing the percentage of airtime on CNN in 2019 mentioning each.

In contrast to the poll results, in which the top three topics were the Climate Crises, Economy and Health Care, CNN’s own coverage has emphasized Education, Impeachment and Taxes.

Comparing the poll and coverage priorities, the graph below shows the percentage of total poll votes assigned to each topic, along with the percentage of the combined airtime devoted to those topics.

Here the stark differences between the two can be seen, with most topics having very different prioritization between what CNN covered and what its readers believe are the most important issues for the 2020 debates. The difference is especially pronounced when it comes to respondents’ most important issues, with the Climate Crisis receiving very little attention, despite polling at the very top, while Impeachment, which polled in the middle range, has been CNN’s second-most covered topic in 2019.

In the end, these numbers remind us once again that the news we see does not always align with the issues the public is most concerned about.

RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.

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