Vying for the Media Spotlight: How Current Presidential Contenders Measure Up

Maria Breaux
September 1, 2015

In the US, primaries have officially heated up as presidential hopefuls vie for attention on the political stage. Despite the customary complaints of a two-party system, the current slate of candidates represents every shade of the spectrum, and voters have a glut of choices.

How do these choices translate to online performance? According to the old adage, no publicity is bad publicity, and that’s certainly true for some of the current presidential candidates.

We reviewed publicly available search data to get a glimpse into how interest in the current candidate pool is building up and how well they’re playing the media game. While online activity is not necessarily an indication of how well a candidate will do at the ballot box, it’s an interesting factor to consider, as it may very well influence how candidates shape and optimize their campaigns.

The Right-Wing Publicity Blitz

Among the Republican candidates, Donald Trump is leading in terms of online buzz. With the recent Republican debate and Trump’s controversial statements generating tons of publicity for him, it’s no surprise that he’s at the center of people’s radar, with more searches and piquing curiosity about him in recent months.

Coverage after the recent debate was squarely centered on Trump’s performance, with his competitors lagging sorely behind in press, due to Trump’s behavior during the event. Headlines such as “No one eclipses Donald Trump at GOP debate” from CNN showed how dominant Trump has been in grabbing attention during the past few months. While many have doubts about Trump as a real contender in this race, his ability to drum up early attention is unquestionable, with a solid lead in the polls and in online viewer eyes.


Democratic Favorites

On the Democrat front, things are much closer. While Hillary has perpetually dominated conversation throughout the course of the year with big articles and commentary on ABC, Huffington Post, and USA Today, Bernie Sanders has shown himself to be a dark horse, with attention and buzz even exceeding Hillary’s in recent months. His campaign to #feelthebern has been a resounding success and major publications have been reporting on this online grassroots movement. Articles comparing him to Clinton have been coming out more and more often, popping up on TIME and the Washington Post recently.

While other Democratic contenders are a distant third, these two front-runners are neck-to-neck. Though Sanders may still be a long shot when compared to Clinton, it’s interesting to see the momentum he’s garnered within certain online communities, giving him a shot at winning the primaries.


We aren’t even in an election year yet so there’s plenty of time for either real or fabricated media-friendly scandals to color the public’s opinion of any of the contestants. Things could change dramatically. (And, Nate Silver and his polling numbers will no doubt zero in on a winner in good time.) For now, there are clear leaders in both public and media attention on both sides of the spectrum, and a lot of catch-up to be done by the other candidates if they hope to win the primaries and eventually, the presidency.

Sign Up and Get Updates by Email
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.