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Is Biden’s Media Monopoly Coming To An End?

Last week, former Vice President Joe Biden was not the Democratic candidate who was mentioned in the most online news stories, marking the first time he has failed to claim that title since at least early June, when FiveThirtyEight began tracking online news coverage. According to data from Media Cloud,1 Biden dropped from first to third place last week, trailing closely behind Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in terms of online stories that mentioned their names as a percentage of stories mentioning any Democratic 2020 candidate. But Biden was still the most-talked-about candidate on cable news, according to data from the TV News Archive, which chops cable news coverage from the three networks we monitor — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — into 15-second clips.2

Biden’s media dominance waned last week — at least online

Share of 15-second cable news clips mentioning each candidate vs. share of online stories mentioning each candidate in a Media Cloud search

Cable TV clips the week of … online stories the week of …
Candidate July 7 July 14 diff July 7 July 14 diff
Bernie Sanders 12.1% 25.3% +13.2 31.8% 39.7% +7.9
Elizabeth Warren 13.6 18.3 +4.7 32.6 38.8 +6.2
Joe Biden 50.6 39.6 -11.0 41.2 37.2 -4.1
Kamala Harris 22.8 20.3 -2.5 31.1 32.3 +1.2
Pete Buttigieg 6.3 5.2 -1.1 16.1 19.8 +3.7
Cory Booker 3.5 5.7 +2.2 11.8 16.1 +4.2
Bill de Blasio 2.2 3.3 +1.1 11.6 15.7 +4.2
Kirsten Gillibrand 1.0 1.7 +0.7 7.9 13.2 +5.3
Julian Castro 1.2 2.8 +1.6 8.0 10.5 +2.5
Amy Klobuchar 1.9 2.4 +0.6 7.4 9.7 +2.2
Jay Inslee 0.9 0.9 +0.0 5.3 7.2 +1.9
Beto O’Rourke 2.1 4.1 +2.0 4.1 6.9 +2.7
John Hickenlooper 0.2 1.0 +0.7 3.5 6.6 +3.1
Tulsi Gabbard 0.1 1.2 +1.2 4.1 6.2 +2.1
Steve Bullock 0.2 2.4 +2.2 2.9 6.2 +3.3
Marianne Williamson 0.1 0.9 +0.8 3.8 6.1 +2.2
Andrew Yang 0.6 1.1 +0.5 3.7 6.0 +2.4
Michael Bennet 0.7 0.7 +0.0 3.2 5.5 +2.2
John Delaney 0.2 1.2 +1.0 2.7 5.4 +2.7
Tim Ryan 0.3 1.1 +0.8 2.2 5.4 +3.3
Eric Swalwell 3.6 8.0
Seth Moulton 0.1 0.2 +0.1 2.6 3.8 +1.2
Joe Sestak 0.0 0.0 +0.0 1.1 2.0 +0.9
Mike Gravel 0.0 0.0 +0.0 1.4 1.9 +0.5

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 name is counted as one mention. For both cable and online news, our search queries look for an exact match for each candidate’s name, except for Julian Castro, for whom our search query is “Julian Castro” OR “Julián Castro.” Media Cloud searches use two of the database’s publication lists: “top online news” and “digital native” publications.

Sources: Internet Archive’s Television News Archive via the GDELT Project, Media Cloud

This isn’t the first time Biden’s media dominance has been challenged. The week following the first Democratic debate, Sen. Kamala Harris came close to unseating Biden as the most-mentioned candidate in both cable and online news, though she ultimately came up short. Biden has held the top spot in cable news mentions since he launched his campaign in April, and in online news, he was less than 3 percentage points out of first place last week, so despite his drop in the rankings, he still got a similar share of coverage to Sanders and Warren.

It’s too soon to say whether Biden has been permanently unseated or if he’s just temporarily getting slightly less attention. We’ll be watching the numbers leading into and following the second Democratic debate to see if Biden will finally have to start sharing the media spotlight with the rest of the field or if he will once again be able to keep the bulk of the coverage focused on himself. Stay tuned!

Check out the data behind this series and check back each week for an update on which candidates are getting the most coverage on cable and online.

Footnotes

  1. Our search queries are the full names of each candidate, except for Julian Castro. Since his name is sometimes spelled with an accent mark and sometimes without, our search query for him looks for “Julian Castro” OR “Julián Castro.” We aggregate the data from Sunday through Saturday of each week to match the queries of TV news. Media Cloud dates articles based on when the article page says the story was published, which means that it is insensitive to time zones and its cutoff times each week may be slightly different than the times used for the cable news data.

  2. 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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