The 2020 Democratic Primaries September to November update

12.10.19 / 10 min read

In our most recent 2020 Democratic Primaries Index, we continue our media monitoring of the US Democratic Party presidential primaries candidates. Following our June, July, and August updates, here we track and analyse media coverage for the major democratic candidates in the months of September to November.

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 candidates by Democratic Party Presidential Debates including Texas, Ohio, and Georgia.

Key Takeaways

Joe Biden

The gap in levels of coverage between Biden and the other candidates has continued to widen.

However, this was primarily driven by coverage on the controversy surrounding Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, Trump urging President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, and subsequent Democrat impeachment proceedings against Trump.

As such, this quarter Biden’s credibility has been majorly dented on two fronts:

  • The Trump base continues to encourage narratives that suggest Biden acted inappropriately whilst Vice-President.
  • Biden has become linked to impeachment proceedings in a way that may entrench Republican supporters against him. 

Michael Bloomberg

On November 24, billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially joined the Democratic Party presidential race. Bloomberg declared he hopes to “defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America.”

Following this announcement, coverage on Bloomberg appears to be exponentially rising. He was the fourth most covered democratic candidate in November, displacing Kamala Harris from this position.

Kamala Harris

More recently, Kamala Harris became the 13th candidate to drop out of the race.

Once considered a top-tier contender for the nomination, Harris ended her presidential campaign, which she called one of the “hardest decisions of her life”, after losing momentum and failing to lift her candidacy from the bottom of the field.

Harris’ rival Democrats are reported to be in a “frantic scramble” to capitalise on her departure, and attract the attention of the high-profile Democratic endorsers, talented staff, and well-heeled donors that once supported the California senator.

Harris’ withdrawal has followed a gradual decline in the level of coverage she has been receiving.

Joe Biden 411,421 497,766 469,007 1,367,662
Elizabeth Warren 160,648 188,559 172,801 521,733
Bernie Sanders 136,049 176,272 155,411 470,571
Pete Buttigieg 41,922 46,585 75,623 165,606
Kamala Harris 58,595 45,891 50,244 154,700
Michael Bloomberg 136,763 136,763
Cory Booker 43,087 36,243 36,575 116,117
Amy Klobuchar 31,581 29,551 32,157 93,049
Tom Steyer 13,709 36,166 38,580 88,240
Julian Castro 39,871 21,071 14,454 75,419
TOTAL 936,883 1,078,104 1,181,615 3,189,860
Donald Trump 1,850,594 2,052,288 2,115,423 6,004,876

From September-November, Biden maintained the top spot in terms of coverage, and received 1,367,662 mentions (42.4% of total coverage) in the past three months, followed by Elizabeth Warren (512,733) and Bernie Sanders (470,571).

In the same time period, Donald Trump (6,004,876) received twice as many mentions compared to the sum of the Democratic candidates (3,234,291) – news focusing on impeachment drove peaks in coverage towards the end of September and November.

Number of articles overtime for the most covered democratic candidates (Joe Biden included)

Number of articles overtime for the most covered democratic candidates (Joe Biden included).

Overall, the biggest spike in coverage was for Joe Biden in the week of September 23 – this was largely due to news of Trump calling for an investigation on him, his son, and their affiliations with Ukraine.

Number of articles overtime for the most covered democratic candidates (Joe Biden excluded)

Number of articles overtime for the most covered democratic candidates (Joe Biden excluded).

Major News

Three Democratic Party presidential debates took place between September – November, and gave rise to peaks in coverage for all 10 candidates on these dates.

The debates took place on September 12 (Houston, Texas), October 15 (Westerville, Ohio), and November 20 (Atlanta, Georgia). Peaks for Julian Castro and Tom Steyer were less significant for the debates on November 20 and September 12, respectively, due to their absence during these events.

Mentions for Joe Biden, during the week of September 23, caused the largest spike in coverage for any candidate over the last three months – this was attributed to news focusing on impeachment, and Trump’s call for Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the former U.S. Vice President.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York, joined the Democratic Primary race on November 24 and was mentioned in more than 135,000 articles in November.

In addition to the debates, Bernie Sanders’ coverage also spiked during the week of September 30, as he suffered a heart attack while campaigning in the Las Vegas region. At the end of the week, Sanders proceeded to unveil a major campaign finance plan, after receiving treatment and recovering at his home in Vermont.

Between September – November Beto O’Rourke, Wayne Messam, and Tim Ryan stepped down from the Democratic Presidential race. Kamala Harris and Steve Bullock stepped down during the first days of December. On November 14th Patrick Deval announced he would enter the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.

Democratic Party Presidential Debates

September 12 – Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas

  • Biden was perceived as the candidate who came under the ‘fiercest and most sustained’ scrutiny during this debate. He was quizzed on race, deportations, health care, and even his age.
    • Warren and Sanders clashed with Biden regarding their differing views on healthcare – they champion an expansive Medicare for All plan, whereas Biden is proposing an expansion of the Affordable Care Act.
    • Biden was criticised for fumbling his words, and often failing to land clear point.
    • Additionally, Castro even questioned the 76-year old’s mental agility in an exchange about the particulars of his health care policy, asking Biden “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”
      • Nevertheless, Biden maintained his reputation as the clear front-runner following this debate.
  • Elizabeth Warren came away relatively unscathed – her electability was not questioned, and she was able to lay out her plans whilst refraining from argument.
    • Her back seat approach contributed to a steady rise in popularity, and following the debate, she held a virtual tie for second place with Sanders.
  • Senator Kamala Harris received bad press for appearing ‘too rehearsed’, due to her continuous ‘one-liners’ that left the ‘distinct impression of a politician’.
  • Sanders appeared to devote the majority of his time to putting Biden under the spotlight, questioning him on health care, trade, and the Iraq war.

October 15 – Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio

  • Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg are considered to be the winners of the October Democratic debate.
  • Sanders appeared in good shape after suffering a heart attack earlier in October. Journalists commenting on the debate mentioned that Sanders appeared more animated and “on his game” than much younger candidates.
    • Many considered this the strongest performance of Sanders so far in a debate.
    • Reports on Elizabeth Warren highlighted that she was considered to be the frontrunner of the debate, even though she received the most blows from the rest of the candidates.
    • Warren was said to have demonstrated strong arguments on her proposed wealth tax, whereas her healthcare plan attracted skepticism.
  • In the October debate, Tulsi Gabbard was the undisputed loser, as most of the journalists mentioned that she looked like a better fit for the Republicans.
  • Additionally, Joe Biden was criticised, as his performance was lackluster, and he did not give convincing answers.

November 20 – Tyler Perry Studios, Atlanta, Georgia

  • The most recent Democratic debate took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Pete Buttigieg was considered the winner of this debate.
    • It was the first time Buttigieg was perceived as a front-runner in one of the debates, and he managed to thrive and cope well with the pressure.
    • Additionally, he kept a level head and appealed to the more pragmatic side of the Democratic electorate.
  • Warren was able to focus on her message of anti-corruption, and her plans to make the government work for regular Americans by demanding a tax on the wealthy.
  • Cory Booker had an ‘impressively strong evening’. He argued that the party must nominate someone who can inspire black voters – a knock on Buttigieg, who has struggled to build support among communities of colour.
    • After the debate, Booker reported on Twitter that he had raised more online in the hour after the debate than on any previous fund-raising day.
  • Klobuchar had what was said to be her best debate yet, and was the top-searched candidate on Google at the end of the night.
    • During the debate, Klobuchar emphasised that she believes a woman is more than capable of beating Donald Trump, saying that “Nancy Pelosi does it every single day”.
  • Castro was not present, which resulted in significantly less mentions for this candidate compared to his competitors.

Image Source: Cropped use of Michael Bloomberg (12 September 2008), by Jim Gillooly/PEI for Be the Change, Inc. via

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