Sunday, August 23, 2015

Checking the Numbers and Not Feeling the Proper Bern

By Bob Ferris

Are all candidates being treated equally?
We keep hearing about so-called media bias in terms of it being liberal and at the same time not covering the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  (Like how could it be both?) So I thought that I would just take a little exploratory sample to see if some candidates received more coverage than others and how did that relate to important measures like polling numbers.

My sense is that CNN is a pretty middle-of-the-road, perhaps even liberal leaning, news source so I thought that I would do a simple and straight-forward analysis of headline mention on their Politics page on a single day.   This was not a particularly whiz-bang or robust analysis drenched in statistical power, but an interesting exercise to see if more needs to be done.

What I found was this: Out of 60 candidate mentions on this page and on this day (August 23, 2015) 15 mentioned Democrats and 45 mentioned Republicans.  So if you were a Republican you were three times as likely to get mentioned, but since there are three times as many Republican candidates mentioned we can see some sort of fairness patterns here in the coverage with an average of 3.75 mentions per Republican or Democratic candidate.  No harm, no real foul here.

The breakdown of 60 headline mentions on CNN Politics page on August 23, 2015.  The poll numbers were averages taken from Real Clear Politics (1,2).
But when you look at how headline mentions are allocated within these party delineations and within the top tier candidates that is where we start to see some problems in terms of fairness and logic.  The first problem is that Trump seems to be getting more than twice the coverage of Clinton.  How is it fair or reasonable that the Republican front-runner candidate gets twice as much ink (electrons) as the leader in the Democratic race?  Moreover with only capturing 22% of one party’s and yet receiving 36% of all coverage it can be argued that Mr. Trump is getting much, much more oxygen than he deserves and claims that he is a monster created by the media gain some credence.

Now getting back to the original questions about liberal bias and Bernie… It is hard looking at these numbers to make the argument—at least in this outlet and on this day—that we are seeing liberal bias even in this progressive venue.  That said the numbers do support the idea that Bernie Sanders is not getting his due in terms of coverage at about 50 % of what his poll numbers would indicate that he should receive.  The numbers are—for better or worse—what they are and not conclusive other than they raise some legitimate questions about fairness and what we have lost since the Fairness Doctrine was removed from the political landscape.

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