The Journey to Super Tuesday – Analyzing Media Coverage of the Democratic Candidates

The fight for the Democratic Presidential Candidacy in 2020 has been absorbing.

On the one hand, the polarizing incumbent President Trump has democrats feverishly seeking a strong antagonist. Bernie Sanders, heralded as a savior by some, is seen as a radical by others, while the late entry of financial juggernaut Michael Bloomberg seemed to break all the rules, ignoring the initial primaries in favour of an exorbitant advertising campaign ahead of Super Tuesday.

Reports have shown that Bloomberg spent over $570 million in an attempt to “buy” the candidacy, a failure of truly epic proportions that garnered only 53 delegates. In comparison, Joe Biden spent a fraction of the sum spent by Bloomberg ($15 million) and romped home as Super Tuesday’s biggest winner. He now leads the pack with a total of 566 delegates.

In the wake of Super Tuesday, we used our News API to analyze how the media treated the candidates. In particular, we explored whether coverage of the candidates has been as imbalanced as the candidates’ own advertising campaigns and whether media coverage – rather than campaign expenditure – is a better proxy for estimating political success.

Cumulative News Stories Over Time

We pulled freely available content, licensed content and traditional print media from around the world categorized as “politics” that featured a candidate’s name in the title for twelve democratic hopefuls from April 2019.

In the graph below, we can see the cumulative news stories over time written about each candidate. (N.B. Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang and Cory Booker are aggregated under “Other”.)

We can see that Joe Biden takes an initial surge in story volume while Sanders and Bloomberg in particular see later growths in media interest, no doubt caused by the former’s popularity and the latter’s entry into the race. Clearly Bloomberg’s massive advertising campaign on TV and social media over the last two months gained him traction in the news.

Media Sentiment Towards Candidates

We wanted to investigate if the media treated the candidates in a positive, neutral or negative manner. We performed sentiment analysis on the news stories to do this.

All candidates had a similar distribution of sentiment throughout the collection of articles, which shows that the media in general were not biased for or against any particular candidate.

However, it is interesting to note that Elizabeth Warren – the only female candidate (excluding those in the “Other” grouping) – has the lowest percentage positive sentiment at 36.4%, while Bloomberg had the highest at 40.8%.

Media Volume Per State

So far we have looked at media from around the world. In the next graph, we pulled news stories featuring the democratic candidates that originated from one of the 50 states of America. We used the News API’s source location parameter to do this.

The proportion of stories is plotted on a grid map of the USA. Use the slider to see how this changes over time, and use the radio buttons to toggle between state distributions and overall distributions. Hover over the map to see contextual info per state.

As we would expect from the earlier line graph, we can see that over time the dominant colours change as candidates are discussed more and less frequently in the media. In earlier months, Joe Biden dominates, but in later months Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg are far more visible.

Regional themes can also be observed. For instance, Elizabeth Warren continuously commands a large share of stories in her home state of Massachusetts, while Hawaii often turns grey for their own Tulsi Gabbard, though it should be noted that there are far fewer Hawaiian stories.

Correlation or Causation?

In the run-up to Super Tuesday, the highest volume of stories featured Joe Biden, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg (when we exclude the “Other” category).

We certainly can’t confirm a causal relationship between the number of news stories and performance in the polls. However, there is definitely some correlation; the order of delegates won matches the order of story volume.

While Bloomberg’s $570 million foray into the world of politics was ultimately a failure, what this investigation has shown is that his heavy expenditure on TV and social media advertising gained a large proportion of political media attention. In the end, however, Biden, Sanders and Warren all achieved greater coverage overall.

Bloomberg’s failure no doubt attests to the strength of traditional political campaigning but may also point to the continuing strength of traditional media over social and TV advertising.

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