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Biden Is (Still) Leading Cable News Coverage

Since former Vice President Joe Biden entered the Democratic primary race for president in late April, he has been a cable news magnet, getting almost as much attention as all the other candidates combined. That continued last week, according to the data we’ve been collecting from the TV News Archive, which slices TV news into 15-second clips that we access via the GDELT’s Project Television API.1 Biden again led the Democratic field in the number of cable news clips that mentioned him; he was followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was mentioned in about a third as many clips as Biden was. For the third week in a row, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris were in third and fourth, though they’ve traded those positions.

Biden was again the most-mentioned on cable last week

How often each Democratic candidate was mentioned each week in news programming on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, counted by the number of 15-second clips that include each person’s full name

Number of Clips
Candidate Week of April 28 Week of May 5
Joe Biden 2,232
Bernie Sanders 602
Elizabeth Warren 339
Kamala Harris 419
Pete Buttigieg 205
Cory Booker 106
Amy Klobuchar 88
Beto O’Rourke 221
Eric Swalwell 43
Kirsten Gillibrand 41
Michael Bennet 46
Andrew Yang 10
John Hickenlooper 21
Jay Inslee 35
Marianne Williamson 2
Julian Castro 39
Tulsi Gabbard 7
Tim Ryan 13
John Delaney 16
Seth Moulton 6
Total 4,491

Includes all candidates that qualify as “major” in FiveThirtyEight’s rubric. Each network’s daily news coverage is chopped up into 15-second clips, and each clip that includes a candidate’s first and last name (found by running a search seeking an exact match for the name) is counted as one mention.

Source: Internet Archive’s Television News Archive via the GDELT Project

Biden has maintained a polling lead since entering the race, and some of his coverage did focus on that. But his mentions also reflected reports of a possible conflict of interest in his dealings with Ukraine while vice president. The word “Ukraine” appeared in more than 100 clips mentioning Biden after President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, encouraged an investigation into him. The Biden campaign called Giuliani’s actions a “political smear.”

The greatest share of Biden’s clips last week were on Fox News, as were clips mentioning Sanders. But Warren saw most of her coverage on MSNBC. Warren urged the House to start impeachment proceedings against the president during a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an end to congressional investigations into Trump. The word “impeachment” appeared in 35 clips mentioning Warren on MSNBC but only one on Fox and four on CNN. Warren was mentioned in more than twice as many clips last week on MSNBC as on either CNN or Fox News.

Warren’s mentions were down slightly last week from the week prior, as were those of almost all of the candidates, though she still rose in the rankings from fourth to third. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, on the other hand, fell from fifth to eighth in cable news mentions. He plans to reboot his campaign as he gears up for a CNN town hall next week. Meanwhile, while the frenzy has ebbed over the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the media attention around him seems to have steadied. He was mentioned in about 200 clips last week, almost the same as the previous week — though down from more than 370 and 500 clips respectively in the two weeks prior.

Biden’s lead in cable news mentions may be large right now, but there is still quite a bit of time for other candidates to grab the spotlight. As those candidates appear on TV to make their case, we’ll be right here with the data tracking how the media covers them.

From ABC News:

Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden discuss plan to beat Trump in 2020


  1. The TV News Archive measures coverage by splitting CNN, Fox News and MSNBC’s daily news footage into 15-second clips and finding the clips that contain a mention of our search query. Our search queries are the full names of each candidate. The GDELT Television API, which processes the data from the TV News Archive, measures a week of coverage from Sunday through Saturday. The cutoff for measuring coverage for any given day is midnight Eastern Standard Time. (Clock changes for Daylight Saving Time are ignored.)

Dhrumil Mehta was a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight.