Understanding the dynamics of the modern media environment is an important skill for a candidate, and it’s a skill that Trump has mastered. But it’s also important to understand the effects that media coverage can have on the campaign and on the polls. By one measure we’ll get to in a moment, Trump has received about the most disproportionate media coverage ever for a primary candidate. The risk to Trump and candidates like him is that polling built on a foundation of media coverage can be subject to a correction when the news environment changes.
The data I’ll cite in this article comes from searches of NewsLibrary.com, an online archive of American newspapers from the 1980s onward. For each competitive primary since 1984, I’ve counted the number of articles about each candidate in the last six months of the pre-primary year (for example, July 2003 through December 2003 in the case of the 2004 Democratic nomination). I count it as a “hit” whenever a candidate’s full name1 appears in the lead paragraph of an article, but no other candidate’s name2 does.3 I limited the search to candidates who were still officially running for president as of Dec. 31 of the pre-primary year, excluding those who dropped out of the race early or who never officially entered.