Report Shows Cable Networks Cover Sanders, O’Rourke More Than Anyone Else

March 21, 2019 Updated: April 17, 2019

A new report revealed that major cable networks cover and discuss Beto O’Rourke and socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) more than the other contenders—despite a crowded field of now more than a dozen 2020 candidates.

FiveThirtyEight, a Democratic-leaning polling site, tracked data from cable networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC to measure their mentions of Democrat candidates. Using the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive and the GDELT project’s Television Explorer, the pollsters analyzed how many times the networks mentioned a candidate in the days leading up to and after their campaign announcement.

“Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke saw dramatic, mountainous peaks in mentions immediately following their announcements, and in some cases still days after,” the report said. “Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren saw more modest bumps. And others—such as Pete Buttigieg, John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee—saw molehills.”

The cable network’s mentions of Sanders and O’Rourke were roughly twice the amount of the other candidates. Both men hovered around 4 percent of total news coverage while the rest of the candidates gained around 2 percent or less.

Although all three networks focused more on the two candidates, there were some differences in the level of coverage. Fox News mentioned Sanders more than any other network and MSNBC spoke about O’Rourke more than the other networks.

Buttons of possible 2020 presidential contenders seen during CPAC 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 22, 2018. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Both men also raised hefty sums in the 24 hours following their formal 2020 bid announcements, suggesting that the coverage helped them generate even more buzz around their campaigns. Sanders raised $5.9 million in the 24 hours following his announcement on Feb. 19, and O’Rourke reportedly raised $6.1 million after announcing his bid on March 14.

Nate Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, detailed the order of the candidates’ press coverage in a post on Twitter. He said Sanders was the highest, followed by O’Rourke, Harris, Warren, Booker, and Klobuchar before a “big gap” and then “everyone else.”

The report also measured the words most likely to indicate that coverage was about a particular candidate. For Sanders, the words most specifically associated with him were “socialism,” “socialist,” and “2016.” For O’Rourke, those words were “congressman” and “fair.” For candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who gained around 0.1 percent of media coverage, the words most associated with him were “mayor” and “guy.”

In an average of early 2020 Democratic primary polls tallied by Real Clear Politics, Sanders polled at second place with 23.4 points, not far behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who led at 29.4 points. O’Rourke trailed further behind with 8 percentage points. Biden has not yet formally announced running for president but is widely expected to do so.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses the crowd at the Royal Family Life Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, on March 14, 2019. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Biden reportedly called six of his supporters on March 19 and told them he is running for president, and asked them to line up major donors so he can quickly rake in millions in contributions. Biden told the supporters that he won’t be able to quickly raise enough contributions from small donors to outpace Sanders and O’Rourke.

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