The headlines about Donald Trump hitting new highs in national polls are tremendously deceptive, as they only measure his support among self-declared Republican primary voters, a small subset of the nation as a whole.
For example, in the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Trump was the first choice of 27 percent of the Republican voters who responded. Given the weighted samples in this poll (38 percent identify as Republican or leaning Republican) this translates into Trump capturing the support of about 11 percent of American voters in total.
In the same poll, 37 percent of Democratic voters supported Democratic contender Bernie Sanders. Given the weighted samples (43 percent identify as Democrat or leaning Democrat) that translates into roughly 16 percent of all American voters.
Additionally, in a recent Quinnipiac poll, Sanders beat Trump in a head-to-head matchup — by an even larger margin than Hillary Clinton did.
But in terms of coverage by the mainstream media, Trump is besting Sanders 23 to 1, by some estimates.
Some of this can be explained by the fact that Trump is the GOP frontrunner, and Sanders has consistently run second to Clinton. But it’s also partly because of what a spectacle Trump has made of himself — and because the media has consistently treated Sanders as a marginal candidate.
The Intercept searched Nexis’ database of transcripts for news shows on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC from the past 30 days, looking for mentions of Trump or Sanders in the headline or opening paragraph. Nexis doesn’t collect everything, so the results are not reliable for absolute measurements, but they do allow for comparisons. There were 20 hits for Sanders; 690 for Trump.
Here’s what the transcript of mentions of Sanders looks like. Scroll through yourself.
Here’s the transcript of mentions of Trump. Scroll through, but maybe grab a snack first if you want to read all of the coverage; it will take you a while.
We also did a Nexis search focused on two major newspaper websites: The New York Times and the Washington Post. We looked exclusively at headlines over the past month, finding 22 Sanders headlines in the Times and 64 in the Post. Trump, by comparison, had 145 headline mentions in the Times and 535 mentions in the Post.
Additionally, Google Trends provides some insight into this phenomenon. We did a search of news headlines for both Sanders and Trump over the past month. On an average day, the ratio of Trump-to-Sanders mentions was 29-to-3. On December 9, in the wake of Trump’s call to block Muslims from entering the U.S., the ration was 100-to-5.
Media executives view Trump’s outrageous antics as good for their bottom line. “Go Donald! Keep getting out there!” Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, cheered at a recent investor presentation.
Top photo: Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at a campaign rally in Manassas, Virginia, on September 14, 2015.