July 3rd 2019
One of the pitfalls of a primary of course is that it is counterproductive. It produces candidates who excite the base, but might not excite the more important swing voters.
That depends to some extent on whether the election depends on GOTV (GET OUT THE VOTE), or acceptability to the Obama-Trump crossovers. And that depends on the locale: Indiana, which voted for Obama in 2008 on the strength of northern counties, may be different from Minnesota, which Klobuchar swept cleanly county-by-county. And that depends even more on whose vote is being GOTTEN-OUT. African American urban voters? Suburban female pro-choice voters? Labor? Not all excitement-of-the-base is the same as crucial demographic voter turnout.
It’s tricky trying to discern appeal to the center. But some of it can be done by subtraction. That is, if too high a fraction of the press of a candidate is on the far left, that might not bode well for the general, especially with the electoral college attention on the vicissitudes of several 50-50 states.
One thing we can do at CivicFeed that no one else can do (very probably), is study the bias of phrases used in news articles, especially non-national, i.e., regional and local news. If one is capturing the imagination of the center, then one should be mentioned by centrist press.
For this study, rather than focus on frequency, we’re going to look at number of distinct phrases including the candidate’s name. So “Secretary Julian Castro” may be frequently occurring, but “tax, Julian Castro”, “notch above Julian Castro”, and “Texas Mayor Julian Castro” will get equal weight this time. It’s a different look at the data, and it gets to the diversity of mentions, not just the entrenchment. For one thing, media outlets are often obliged to mention a candidate, or a list of top candidates; whereas, inventing different phrases in which to contextualize the candidate or shape a perception requires real interest.
As usual, though, we are only counting repeated phrases, and excluding social media.
So who is mentioned in great proportion of phrases that are not on the left, i.e., in the center-left, center-right, or right?
KLOBUCHAR (51% non-left), BIDEN (49%), HICKENLOOPER (48%), BULLOCK (46%), O’ROURKE (46%), SANDERS (42%), INSLEE (41%).
All of the others are >=60% mentioned in phrases rated solidly left-media biased.
This perhaps matches intuitions, at least for the top four spots.
Tim Ryan gets 0% of his mentions in right-rated phrases, 3% in center-right. Bill De Blasio gets 7% of his mentions in right-rated phrases, 3% in center-right. Elizabeth Warren gets 8% of her mentions in right-rated phrases, 6% center-right. This is not a lot of appeal across the great divide.
To me, this shows a serious ceiling for centrist appeal, and probably should be on the radar of any campaign manager looking ahead. But of course, this is the primary season: loyal donors and tribal base winner-take-all lanes are still at stake.
It is possible that one is so popular to all that the % of mentions hides this fact. So it is possible that candidate Warren is popular both on the left and right, but has so enamored the left that its proportional popularity obscures broad appeal. Possible, but not probable.
Also, it’s likely that a lot of the attention on the right is critical attention, even mocking or trolling. Tim Ryan might just not be on the right’s radar because they don’t take him seriously. Bernie Sanders is a good example, where he is mentioned 15% of the time in phrases on the right. Harris and Booker both hit 22% here.
Some might say that what matters most is the imagination of the center-right. I would agree. That ranking looks like this:
Julian Castro, like Elizabeth Warren and Tim Ryan, must be searched with first name for disambiguation. We did that with and without accented a. (Note that Sanders also needs to exclude Sarah Sanders, and Bennet needs to exclude Bennett. We did those exclusions. We search O’Rourke just as Rourke to avoid various quote-variations that are found.) It should be noted that Julian Castro has the same center-right attention in this respect as Joe Biden.
That’s not a missing data point. Moulton has 0% of his mentions in center-right rated phrases.
Here is a chart combining percentages in center-right-rated as well as right-rated phrases. In some sense, this is an indicator of appeal to voters who are not already strongly opposing Trump. No one is saying that full-right voters are crossing over in 2020, but a lot of center-right voters are actually exposed to right-rated media (especially on TV and radio, which are included as press at CivicFeed).
It’s true that some will say this is proof that Biden and Klobuchar are “Manchurian Republicans.” But that’s the kind of thing that gets said in a heated primary. People say things they want to take back later.
More importantly, to have all of one’s mentions in left-rated phrases can’t really be a good thing farther down the campaign trail.
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