The 2020 Democratic Primaries August Update

9.12.19 / 7 min read

To continue our media monitoring and Index of the US Democratic Party presidential primaries and our June and July updates, here we track and analyse media coverage for the major democratic candidates in the month of August.

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), we have tracked every time the candidates are referred to in the media throughout August. As the race is moving on, this month we are expanding our index. We have targeted our media monitoring and analysis by separating the coverage of the top four candidates by political issue.

The Race so far

Image of a table showing the race thus far

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Names August
Joe Biden 177,391
Bernie Sanders 132,302
Elizabeth Warren 112,753
Kamala Harris 72,223
Cory Booker (+1) 59,778
Beto O’Rourke (+2) 59,593
Bill de Blasio 35,580
Pete Buttigieg (-3) 33,298
Julián Castro (+1) 31,783
Tulsi Gabbard (+3) 23,942

The top four most covered candidates remain, in order, Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris.

Interestingly, coverage of Kamala Harris appears to have begun dropping off.

Not who, but what?

Looking at which candidates are being talked about is helpful when analysing the race, but we can go much further.

Our AI is able not only to detect conversation on each of the candidates but decipher the topics being mentioned in relation to them.

This month we looked at who, out of the four front runners, is dominating discussion around the following major political issues: education, environment, immigration, and healthcare.

Whilst Biden is leading in terms of coverage, he isn’t across the board


Image of a graph depicting levels of education

Graph of top four candidates

Spikes in coverage:

  • April 22, Warren releases higher education plan: cancel student debt and eliminate tuition.
  • May 19, Billionaire Robert F. Smith pledges to pay off the student debt for the entire graduating Morehouse College Class. This story was frequently linked to Warren’s education plan.
  • June 24, Sanders, along with House Democratic progressives, introduced legislation that would eliminate all of student debt.
  • June 26-27, the first official debates were held in Miami, Florida.

Key takeaway:

Sanders tactical decision, to unveil his plan of eliminating student loan debt immediately prior to the first round of debates, ensured that media coverage on the topic of education following the debates focused on him.

However, given Sanders’ long association with these types of policy, Warren’s proposed education plan was more news worthy and gathered more attention overall.


Image of a graph about the environment

Image of a graph showing top four candidates and the environment

Spikes in coverage:

  • April 15, Warren says she would sign an executive order placing a “total moratorium” on new federal oil and gas leases – coverage on this spiked in the week commencing April 22.
  • May 13, Biden defends his record on climate change, following criticism by the other 2020 candidates, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.
  • June 4, Biden and Warren unveil climate plans. Biden’s policy would target net-zero emissions and 100 % clean energy economy by 2050. Warren adds $2tn and a Green Marshall Plan to her existing climate visions.
  • June 20, EPA gives coal a reprieve, scrapping Obama era legislation. Articles looking at Trump’s rollback on climate legislation compared it to Warren’s proposed actions to reduce emissions – which was labelled, by the media, as the most radical of the candidates.
  • June 26-27, the first official debates were held in Miami, Florida.
    • There was very little discussion on the environment in these debates – just 15 minutes in total.
  • July 11, Sanders, along with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, calls for the US to declare a climate emergency.
  • August 22, Sanders unveils 10 year, $16tn, climate plan

Key takeaway:

Coverage is driven not only by action but also by surrounding events (such as the EPA’s rollback on coal legislation). Having the most radical agenda is one way that candidates can position themselves to be mentioned during these events.

In this case, as Warren was the candidate with the most progressive climate policy at the time, she received attention.

Climate policy has, thus far, been less significant in the race than one might have expected.


Image of a graph about Healthcare

Graph of top four candidates and healthcare

Spikes in coverage:

  • April 10, Sanders reintroduces Medicare for All health care plan.
  • May 5, Cory Booker doubles down on his support of both Medicare for All and private insurance plans. As Booker had co-sponsored Sanders’ Medicare-for-all bill (above), much of this coverage referred to Sanders.
  • June 26-27, the first official debates were held in Miami, Florida.
  • July 15, Biden releases healthcare plan aimed at strengthening the Affordable Care Act.
    • Biden’s proposal was contrasted to all of Harris, Sanders, and Warren as it argued that Medicare for All would threaten Obamacare.
  • July 30-31, the second official debates were held in Detroit, Michigan.

Key takeaway:

Healthcare has caused a huge amount of coverage in both debates, more-so than any other topic. If this continues through the third debates healthcare could be the defining issue of this race.


Image of graph about Immigration

Image of graph: top fource candidates and immigration

Spikes in coverage:

  • April 12, Donald Trump tweets a video juxtaposing a clip of Ilhan Omar with images of the hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. Sanders responded that “The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.”
  • June 26-27, the first official debates were held in Miami, Florida.
    • After the first debates, both Biden and Harris saw a considerably greater share of coverage than normal. This was caused by Harris challenging Biden on his record surrounding segregation.
  • July 11, Warren publishes immigration proposals including protections for migrants, increasing the number of refugees taken into the US and investigating alleged abuses under the Trump administration.
  • July 11, Sanders and Warren, as well as Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, attend forum hosted by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
  • July 30-31, the second official debates were held in Detroit, Michigan.
    • At this set of debates, Biden was pushed by the other candidates on his record on immigration, particularly deportations, during the Obama administration.

Key takeaway:

A topic centring on a candidate is not necessarily good news for them. Biden’s association with immigration in the race so far is a reflection of how the other candidates have consistently attacked him both on his current position and for his prior actions.

Total share of voice

Image of total Share of Voice graph

Although Biden may still be at the front of polls, this does not mean he is leading in terms of conversation. The one topic that is particularly associated with him, immigration, has served as a burden thus far.

Whilst Harris has typically been viewed as one of the four front runners in this race it would appear that she is beginning to drop behind the other three candidates. Sanders’ historic association with Medicare for All has ensured that he continues to be the Democratic candidate most associated with progressive healthcare policies. Warren’s domination of the topic of education is perhaps the most interesting thing to see.

Image Source: Cropped use of Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden walking with supporters at a pre-Wing Ding march from Molly McGowan Park in Clear Lake, Iowa (9 August 2019), by Gage Skidmore via

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