Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts November and December 2019 – Russia’s Media Mentions of 2020 Presidential Candidates (Update 1)
November and December 2019 – Russia’s Media Mentions of 2020 Presidential Candidates (Update 1)

November and December 2019 – Russia’s Media Mentions of 2020 Presidential Candidates (Update 1)

January 2, 2020

Post by Rachel Chernaskey

In FIE 2020’s first two analyses, we examined which candidates received the most coverage from Russian state-sponsored media and the manner in which those candidates were discussed. President Donald Trump garnered the overwhelming majority of mentions, given his position as head of state and 2020 presidential candidate. In the Democratic field, Vice President Joe Biden saw the highest percent of negative mentions, Senator Bernie Sanders received generally neutral coverage and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard saw the highest percent of positive mentions.

As the election cycle progressed through November and December 2019, Russian media mentions of the 2020 candidates have evolved. Since our prior two assessments in November 2019, we have surveyed an additional 685 articles (194 RT stories and 491 Sputnik News stories) offering insights into shifting narratives in the outlets’ coverage of Election 2020. There was no significant change in tenor by which RT and Sputnik News discussed the candidates, save for the addition of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Generally, positive and negative mentions of candidates since our first assessment shifted by only a percent or two (see Figure 6 and Figure 7). However, some candidates saw a significant surge in the volume of mentions they received (see Figure 8). 

To date, the team has analyzed 2,572 stories and 4,591 mentions published by RT and Sputnik. Here are some of the highlights since our previous analyses of Russian state-sponsored media on November 10 and November 25: 

  • President Donald Trump continues to be covered far more than any other candidate in the field, with an additional 546 mentions since our last analysis.
    • Many of Trump’s positive mentions stem from impeachment coverage that is favorable toward his view and highly critical of House Democrats.
    • Trump’s negative mentions remain largely related to foreign policy and international relations issues. Relevant examples since our last analysis include coverage on Trump’s statements regarding the Hong Kong protests, negotiations of nuclear arms control, remarks made to the Israeli American Council Summit on Israel, the militarization of space, the use of sanctions, tensions with Iran and others.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden has seen a sizable surge in mention volume. 
    • Biden’s mentions total increased from 331 mentions to 585 mentions since our initial assessment. 
    • Biden still saw the lowest percent of positive mentions in the pool (2%) and the highest total number of unfavorable mentions in the Democratic field (269 mentions).
    • During this reporting period, Biden’s negative mentions were overwhelmingly related to:
      • The impeachment proceedings in general
      • Biden’s role in Ukraine as vice president
      • His son, Hunter Biden. 
  • Both Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Elizabeth Warren saw surges in mention volume, though the spread between neutral, favorable and unfavorable mentions for each shifted marginally. 
    • The majority of Buttigieg’s negative mentions arise generally in the context of his record on race-related issues, both as mayor of South Bend and during his 2020 campaign, echoing criticisms covered in the U.S. media.
    • Negative mentions of Warren center on her controversial claims of Native American ancestry and her policy proposals, especially her healthcare policy. Warren’s previous claim to Native American ancestry continues to surface in Russian media, a story that has largely faded from U.S. coverage.
    • Warren has consistently outpaced Sanders in percent of negative mentions despite both arising from the more populist end of the Democratic spectrum. 
  • Michael Bloomberg, who officially entered the race near the end of 2019, received 23 mentions.
    • Bloomberg saw mostly negative mentions (11) compared to neutral (10) or positive (2) mentions. 
    • Negative coverage of Bloomberg mostly arises in the context of his ownership of Bloomberg News, his status as a billionaire and his late entrance into an already crowded Democratic field. 
    • Having just entered the presidential race, Bloomberg hasn’t received a substantial number of mentions but his distribution of positive to negative mentions mirrors that of establishment Democratic candidate Biden.
  • Tulsi Gabbard’s mentions increased from 61 mentions to 113 mentions.
    • Gabbard continues to be discussed more than some of the other candidates, like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang, all of whom have polled higher than Gabbard and qualified for the last debate.