As the 2020 presidential race moves toward the fall, how do the candidates who appeared in the second Democratic debate stack up in terms of media coverage?
The bar chart below shows the number of mentions of each candidate on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News from Jan. 1, 2019 through present, using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive as processed by the GDELT Project. Each candidate was searched by their last name except for Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders who were searched by both their first and last names, and Tim Ryan who was searched by his full name. Searches for (Julian) Castro excluded coverage mentioning “anti-Castro” or “Cuba” or “Cuban”; (Marianne) Williamson excluded mentions of “Zion Williamson” and “NBA” to avoid confusion with the basketball player; and (Andrew) Yang excluded mentions of “Kraft” or “spa” or “Orchid” or “Lee” or “Cindy” or “Miami” to avoid confusion with the Robert Kraft /Cindy Yang prostitution sting. (Though the first debate was held in Florida’s largest city, excluding mentions of Yang with “Miami” had no impact on his ranking.)
For a larger view, click on the chart.
Biden is clearly the leader in terms of national television news coverage, accounting for more than twice as many mentions as the closest candidate, Kamala Harris. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren close out the top four. Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg form the next cluster of candidates, followed by Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill de Blasio. The final cluster, headed by now-ex candidate John Hickenlooper, includes Yang, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Ryan, Jay Inslee, Williamson and Michael Bennet.
Mentions on the nightly news broadcasts for ABC (“World News Tonight With David Muir”), CBS (“Evening News” and “Evening News With Jeff Glor” and “Evening News With Norah O'Donnell”) and NBC (“Nightly News With Lester Holt”) follow a similar pattern, as seen in the graph below, drawn from San Francisco affiliates KGO, KPIX and KNTV.
The ordering of the candidates is slightly different, but the clustering remains largely the same, with a top tier of Biden, Sanders, Harris and Warren, a middle tier of O’Rourke, Booker and Buttigieg, and the rest falling into two small tiers.
Online mentions of the candidates over the same time period reflect a slightly more balanced picture. Using data from the GDELT Project, major worldwide online news coverage in 65 languages was monitored for mentions of the candidates’ full names.
Unlike television coverage, in which Biden enjoyed a commanding lead, online he is neck-and-neck with Warren and Sanders, with Harris not that far behind. There is also less clustering of candidates, though Castro and Hickenlooper head up a grouping of candidates who have received little attention across all three mediums.
One reason Biden may not have as much of a lead in online coverage is that television has a fixed amount of daily air time, meaning every mention of Biden displaces a mention that otherwise might have gone to another candidate. In contrast, the unlimited space of the online world means news outlets can run as many articles as they want about each candidate.
Given the numbers above, it seems likely that Yang, Bullock, Delaney, Gabbard, Ryan, Inslee, Williamson and Bennet may soon follow Hickenlooper on their way out of the race. Together with Biden, Harris, Sanders and Warren make up the big four candidates dominating the 2020 nominating contest.
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.