Election Tracker

What issues are 2020 candidates being mentioned with in the media?

Health care is a top concern among voters. That’s according to a recent poll of 2,000 Americans where respondents across age, gender and party lines ranked health care as the top policy issue facing the country. The economy ranked second; immigration third; the environment and education fourth; and foreign policy last.

Here at the 2020 Election Coverage Tracker, we wondered if the media has been covering the policy positions of the 2020 candidates along similar proportions.

Using Media Cloud, we collected 9,648 articles published across 32 media outlets between January 1 and May 20, 2019 that mentioned eight of the top candidates – Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar – in the headline. The articles were then filtered by topic – like “health and medicine” and “immigration and refugees” – that had been automatically assigned by Media Cloud’s topic modeling classifier. We calculated proportions by dividing the number of candidate articles on a specific issue by the total articles on that candidate.

We found that Bernie Sanders appears more often than his challengers in health care and foreign policy coverage; Elizabeth Warren is discussed in the context of education and the economy more often than any other candidate; and Beto O’Rourke is mentioned most often in coverage of immigration and the environment. (Klobuchar gets an honorable mention for health care; Biden for foreign policy, Harris for immigration.)

Breaking this policy coverage out by candidate, we can use radar charts to explore the policies each politician is being mentioned with. Here are four prototypes – with the “economy” removed because of its outsized influence – built with R’s Plotly package.

This analysis – and the radar charts in particular – is inspired by FiveThirtyEight’s analysis exploring the categories of voters 2020 candidates are hoping to appeal to. The same visual structure may be helpful in understanding the policies and issues the media, on the whole, is “drawn to” in their effort to cast light on each candidate.

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Aleszu Bajak

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