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Cable News Is Covering Biden As Much As Every Other Democratic Candidate Combined

In the first full week of his 2020 campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden continued to dominate cable news coverage on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. According to data from the TV News Archive, which chops up TV news into 15-second clips that we access using the GDELT Project’s Television API,1 Biden was mentioned in more clips that any other candidate across the three networks last week, and he was mentioned almost four times as often as Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had been getting the most coverage of any 2020 candidate before Biden joined the race. For the second consecutive week, Biden, who has also been well ahead in polling and endorsements, was mentioned in about as many clips as all the other candidates combined.

Most candidates get a bump in media coverage around the time they announce that they’re running, but for some candidates — like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who was mentioned in about 870 clips in the week after he declared his candidacy but has recently been getting about a quarter of that level of coverage — that bump can quickly fade. For others, like Sanders, it can be the start of more sustained run of higher media attention. We’re already seeing less cable news coverage of Biden this week compared to the week that he announced, but he started at such a high peak that even a 34 percent drop has still left him on top.

Cable news is still talking about Biden more than all others

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 Last Week This Week
Joe Biden 3,393
2,232
Bernie Sanders 1,099
602
Kamala Harris 412
419
Elizabeth Warren 626
339
Beto O’Rourke 155
221
Pete Buttigieg 373
205
Cory Booker 92
106
Amy Klobuchar 102
88
Michael Bennet*
46
Eric Swalwell 45
43
Kirsten Gillibrand 16
41
Julian Castro 40
39
Jay Inslee 9
35
John Hickenlooper 1
21
John Delaney 12
16
Tim Ryan 28
13
Andrew Yang 18
10
Tulsi Gabbard 23
7
Seth Moulton 76
6
Marianne Williamson 0 2

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 their name) is counted as one mention.

*Not a declared candidate last week

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

By our metric, Sanders was either the first or second most-talked-about candidate in cable news every week in April. Sen. Kamala Harris, who was the third most mentioned candidate this week, didn’t see much of a change from the previous week, but she moved up in the rankings because South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s coverage has declined for two consecutive weeks now and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s coverage is down from last week, when she drew media attention with a CNN town hall. O’Rourke, who through much of April had been less prominently featured on the three cable networks we monitor, had received about 150 mentions in each of the past three weeks, but was mentioned in 221 clips this week.

As much fun as the week-to-week coverage fluctuations can be, what we’re really interested in is larger patterns, like the sustained dominance of Sanders, and whether Biden can keep leading the pack. And we’ll be right here to track them in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!

Footnotes

  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 is a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics.

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