Which Candidates Are Mentioned Most Often on TV News?

Actually there is no need to imagine. It's happening already.
Curious about how much media coverage the Democratic presidential hopefuls were getting, I asked FAIR intern Teddy Ostrow to do a count, using the Internet Archive’s TV News Archive, of candidate mentions in 2019 (1/1/19–4/11/19). He used the list of declared or exploratory candidates on Wikipedia, plus Joe Biden, since he leads most national polls of the race.

Somewhat to my surprise, the results tracked fairly closely with candidates’ positions in the polls. When one candidate’s mentions are divided by the total of all candidates’ mentions, the resulting percentage generally resembles the polling average published by Real Clear Politics (3/14/19–4/7/19):

2020 Democratic Primary Candidates TV Mentions


The one candidate who’s getting a much smaller percentage of TV news mentions than his average in the polls is Biden, who got 16 percent of the mentions and is averaging 31 percent in polls. Of course, Biden has not announced he is running, and further does hold a current office that might keep him in the news. Bernie Sanders also is covered somewhat less than his polling numbers: He got 18 percent of mentions, and averages 21 percent in polls. Andrew Yang, the least covered of the candidates who got more than a tiny amount of coverage, got 0.6 percent of mentions with a 0.8 percent polling average.

All the other candidates are getting a share of coverage equal to or greater than their share of support in polls. The biggest gap was for Elizabeth Warren, who got 16 percent of mentions and averages only 6 percent in polls. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand also got a substantially larger share of coverage compared to their poll averages.

A couple of caveats are crucial. One is that the relationship between how much a candidate is covered and how much polling support they have can obviously go both ways: News managers may or may not decide how much to cover a candidate based on how much support they have, but voters are highly unlikely to express support for a candidate they’ve never heard of. Getting next to no coverage almost guarantees that a candidate will have little or no presence in polls—as the chart bears out.

The other thing to keep in mind is that all coverage is not the same; if coverage focuses on a candidate’s scandals, gaffes or perceived weaknesses, they may believe less is more. There is some research that suggests that female candidates, in particular, are being covered more negatively than the men (Storybench, 3/29/19).

Of course, whoever runs as the Democratic nominee for president will have to contend with the co-dependent relationship between corporate media and Donald Trump—which can only be strengthened by his running as an incumbent. With that in mind, it can only be encouraging that all the Democratic candidates together got more coverage—slightly—than Trump by himself, with 23,677 vs. 19,895 mentions.

Editor’s Note: While sincerely appreciative of the work Jim Naureckas does on FAIR, his concluding sentence is not something we can support unreservedly. For one thing, it sounds like another blanket endorsement for the Lesser Evil, of benefit only to the Democrat party establishment, which we reject. John Walsh sums up our view of this matter well:

“With that in mind, it can only be encouraging that all the Democratic candidates together got more coverage—slightly—than Trump by himself, with 23,677 vs. 19,895 mentions.”

I might say that ONLY Tulsi and Bernie of those who are running real campaigns have refused to denounce Maduro as a “dictator,” and except for Tulsi they all seem to be more Russophobic than Trump!!!  And of course Biden has already been at the center of actions worse than any Trump has initiated.
And only Tulsi by word and deed has taken the position that we must talk to those we are told are our adversaries, “because the only alternative is war.” 
IMO candidates who fail to take that position are no less than a threat to human survival.
—John Walsh

Research and charts: Teddy Ostrow

About the Author
Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org, the website of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Since 1990, he has edited Extra!, FAIR’s print publication, now a monthly newsletter. He is the co-author of Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the ’90s. Naureckas was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran/Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR’s program director. You can follow him on Twitter at @JNaureckas.

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