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The 2024 State of the Media Report

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The 2020 State of the Election Part V

"I voted" sticker, American flag, Capital building

Analyzing media coverage of the first presidential debate 

In today’s polarized political environment, there is little middle ground between the left and the right, but last night’s presidential debate may have been a rare exception. From Drudge Report to The Huffington Post – both the left- and right-leaning media – described the debate like we all saw it: chaos. In their first of three presidential debates, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squared off in Cleveland, Ohio. In this week’s State of the Election, we analyze how coverage was consumed by left and right audiences and dive into the seven key issues asked by the moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.  

How was the debate covered? 

As expected, the debate is garnering significant media coverage and will continue to do so for a few days. Over the past week, there have been nearly 100k mentions across online media, newspapers, TV, radio, and podcasts related to the presidential debate. As we’ve done in past analysis, we are keen to understand how the left- and right-leaning online publications cover the debate and how that content is shared across social media.  

In the days leading up to the debate and on the night of the debate, right-leaning publications had published 32% more content than left-leaning publications; however, at the time of publishing the day after the debate, left-leaning publications generated 25% more coverage. 

But ultimately, it’s the quality of the coverage that we care about. Specifically, how content is shared across social media. Left-leaning coverage was shared about 2x more on Facebook, 24x more on Reddit, and 2.9x more on Twitter. From our past analysis, left-leaning content has always outperformed on Reddit, and right-leaning content has outperformed on Twitter. I was surprised to see the discrepancy in Twitter amplification.

Cision 2020 U.S. Election Coverage First Presidential Debate

 How were the key issues framed? 

Chris Wallace asked both Trump and Biden questions that hit on seven key themes: 

  1. The Supreme Court  
  2. Healthcare 
  3. COVID-19 
  4. The Economy 
  5. Protests & Violence
  6. Climate Change 
  7. Election Integrity   

Of the seven debate themes, the supreme court, the novel coronavirus, and the economy yielded the most coverage while racial inequality yielded the least amount of coverage. As we move into the home stretch of the election, we at Cision believe these three issues will be paramount to both campaigns and will continue to dominate the election narrative, and they will be the focus for this analysis. 

Cision 2020 U.S. Election Coverage Key Messages

The Supreme Court Key Messages 

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court was one of the least talked about topics. But after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG), the Supreme Court became one of the most important issues of the election. In last night’s debate, the Supreme Court vacancy was the first question by Chris Wallace.  

Not surprisingly, Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to replace RBG, was the biggest key message from the Supreme Court related debate coverage. The second most talked about issue was the Affordable Care Act and whether or not it will be repealed. The third most important issue was the question central to the supreme court debate— whether or note RBG’s seat should be filled before or after the election.  

The Economy Key Messages 

The economy receives the most consistent coverage, month after month. According to Pew Research, the economy is the most important issue for voters. Last night, both Trump and Biden made their cases for why their economic policies are the best for the future of America. 

In terms of key messages, unemployment was the most talked about economic issue. Shutting down the economy, which Trump claimed Biden would do as President was the second key message. The recession, the middle-class, and Trump’s taxes were third, fourth, and fifth and each generating a healthy amount of coverage. Trump’s message of promoting the “greatest economy” in U.S. history and Biden’s message of economic inequality were the least talked about issues.  

The Coronavirus Pandemic Key Messages   

Year-to-date, the coronavirus has generated more coverage than any other voting issue, and it will be a pivotal voting issue in November. As Trump defended his administration’s response to the pandemic, Biden attacked it.  

Biden focused on the 200,000 Americans who have lost their lives and criticized Trump for downplaying the virus earlier this year. COVID-19 deaths were by far the most talked about issue. Trump acknowledged the high death count but said it would have been exponentially worse if he did not shut down American borders to Chinese passengers. Trump squarely placed the blame on China, which was the third most discussed topic.  

There is a lot more to unpack. In next week’s analysis, we will revisit the key issues of the election to see how coverage is evolving, especially in swing states. 

Here are presidential election focused press releases distributed by Cision PR Newswire from the past week:  

Cision is politically unaffiliated and does not endorse any political parties, platforms, campaigns or candidates.