According to the Tyndall Report, which tracks the airtime that the various flagship news programs on NBC, CBS and ABC dedicate to a variety of stories, the 2016 election has received 857 minutes of combined coverage, through Nov. 30. With a month to go, that’s already the second biggest total of any pre-election year in the last seven presidential cycles.
That might sound like a big number, but the math works out to about 1 minute and 12 seconds on each newscast.
We can debate the extent to which the nightly network newscasts matter all that much anymore. Total viewership has been cut in half since 1980 (52.1 million to 25.7 million), according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen data. But if we think of the newscasts’ coverage distribution as a proxy for what much of the mainstream media does, Tyndall’s numbers are more interesting.
The report found, for instance, that the Republican primary race has received more than twice as much coverage as the Democratic contest. “Besides the fact that there are many more Republican candidates than Democratic ones, the GOP debates have made much more news than the Democrats’ [debates],” Tyndall noted.
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is the most-covered candidate in the race. In fact, he alone has gotten more airtime (234 minutes) than the entire Democratic field (226 minutes).
That sounds about right for the media as a whole, doesn’t it?
Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton is the second-most-covered candidate, at 113 minutes.
Two other things stand out: First, Vice President Joe Biden, who flirted with a run but ultimately stayed out of the Democratic race, got far more coverage (56 minutes) than Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (10 minutes), who actually is running and polled well for much of the summer and fall.
Second, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has attracted a paltry seven minutes of coverage, though he’ll likely see more in the near future, now that he’s moved into third place nationally and appears poised to win Iowa.
The takeaway for candidates is a bit disheartening: If you’re not winning, saying outrageous things, or embroiled in an email scandal, it can be difficult to garner the attention you think you deserve. Candidates like Cruz, Sanders, Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who aren’t natural headline makers, like Trump — have to hope that when the calendar flips to an election year, the coverage will increase -- significantly.