Sanders in June: Polarizing…Except in Media

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Sanders Narrative Map as of May 31, 2019

Source: Quid, Epsilon Theory

Sanders Narrative Commentary

  • Of all major candidates, Sanders coverage demonstrates the highest attention, the highest cohesion and the highest sentiment (although sentiment relating to coverage of Pete Buttigieg, who has emerged somewhat in May and June, rivals that of Sanders).
  • The high cohesion – visualized by the overall compression of distance between nodes and clusters in the graph above – indicates high similarity of language across articles referencing Sen. Sanders. Authors’ references to Sanders follow a structured taxonomy and almost obligatory references to his age, socialism-related terms and his 2016 campaign.
  • We think this alone justifies significant caution when reading news about Sanders and his campaign. We think the gravity of the strong Sanders narrative has the capacity to skew the language and implicit/explicit conclusions included in news reports in the direction of that narrative.
  • Discussions of democratic socialism, the green new deal and related topics concerning universal health care, workers rights and unions, taxing the rich, etc. all occupy the most central, most connected part of Sanders’s narrative. At this point in the campaign, the Sanders narrative is not only more cohesive than that of other candidates, it is cohesive around key issues.
  • Those key issues and the language used to discuss them happen to be the ones that the media have been most engaged in writing about – popular democratic socialist policies are central to the narratives of the Democratic primary – which is the driver of Sanders’s very high attention score in our system.
  • There are only two central clusters within the Sanders graph that are remotely negative: the first includes articles defined by ‘old white guy’ language, usually expressed with concern about dual standards in discussions of electability and likability of Sen. Warren and Sen. Harris, in particular. The second are discussions of Sanders’s remarks on Israel and Netanyahu.
  • From a ‘predictiveness’ perspective, we think it is more difficult to judge how much the influence of media will be on a candidate like Sanders, who has a history and has established “opinions” from many likely voters. Still, the media is (intentionally or unintentionally) promoting common knowledge that “Sanders is the candidate with the policies that will make America America again.” We are less convinced than some that voters still turned off by the 2016 primary or by Sanders’s socialist credentials won’t be affected.

Sanders Narrative Attention as of May 31, 2019

  • Attention of coverage on Sanders declined somewhat in March with the entrance of additional candidates; since that time, however, it has remained stable and still well above that of nearly all other candidates.
  • For most of 2019, populist and democratic socialist-related topics and language have dominated election coverage, which we suspect is the main reason for Sen. Sanders’s attention measurement under our methodology.

Sanders Narrative Cohesion as of May 31, 2019

  • With the exception of the period prior to his formal announcement of a 2020 campaign, the cohesion of coverage of Sen. Sanders has been both very high and consistent.
  • We think that the narrative of Sanders – the ‘socialist’ candidate with a very progressive policy history – is crystallized across media coverage, causing all pieces to veer toward mentions of those issues or the use of language consistent with that common knowledge, even on disparate topics.
  • As noted previously, we believe the presence of such a cohesive narrative warrants extra caution when reading news about Sanders (from all parties, regardless of perspective on his candidacy).

Sanders Narrative Sentiment as of May 31, 2019

  • Interestingly, the sentiment attached to Sanders coverage has steadily increased in every month of the primary campaign.
  • This is an unusual pattern, and isn’t reflective of anything happening more broadly with the mix of topics over these five months – it certainly isn’t a pattern shared by any other candidate.
  • It is, however, only five months. This rise could absolutely be a feature of some random relationship of Sanders to topics that were covered more positively. Still, as consumers of news, we would be concerned that this might be indicative of knowing or unknowing preferences on the part of journalists authoring stories or editors assigning coverage.
  • Almost universally, we think consumers of political news – supporters and opponents of Sen. Sanders alike – should be asking “Why am I reading this now?” for almost every Sanders article they read.
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Andrew Meyer
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Andrew Meyer

Or it could be that the media’s audience is so small and unrepresentative that it doesn’t matter. For example, Fox News gets about 2.4M daily viewers. The NY Times has about 3.5M digital subscribers and maybe 1M print subscribers. AOC has 4.3M Twitter followers and 1.8M IG followers. Donald Trump has 61M Twitter followers.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s Digital Campaign manager’s goal is to have 80M FB/Twitter followers who, when requested will share/post/like a post. This enables them to reach followers and friends of followers more specifically with more personalized messages at virtually zero cost. I.e. they don’t have to buy political ads to reach their constituents. Maybe there are restrictions placed upon political ads in FB, but they won’t effect people sharing/posting/liking posts.

In the last election, there were 131M people who voted and 61M who voted for Trump. If Parscale can get to 80M people who will share/post/like etc upon request, they probably vote and encourage their friends to vote. If Sander’s buys media coverage/stories/publicity to organizations like the NY Times that have maybe 4M or so people who see unpersonalized content in mass media, what does it matter? Does it matter when they see it?

They are bringing a knife to a gun fight

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