#WhereIsWarren? Voters Wonder At Candidate’s Exclusion From Polls and Media Coverage

Some in media appear to have written off her candidacy, despite her polling higher than Klobuchar, Biden and others, and her third place lead in pledged delegates.

Voters, academics and reporters frustrated with how Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has been overlooked by cable news and other outlets started using the Twitter hashtag #WhereIsWarren on Tuesday, calling out specific instances in which the top-tier Democratic candidate is being left out of coverage.

A poll released by NBC and the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 18 excluded Warren from a key question on how various Democratic candidates perform against President Trump in a head-to-head match-up.

As of Feb. 19, Warren is in third place in the race for pledged delegates, which are what ultimately decide the Democratic presidential nomination. She is currently behind former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and ahead of Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former VP Joe Biden, both of whom were included in the above poll.

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also included in this section of the NBC/WSJ poll — despite having zero pledged delegates. Bloomberg has chosen to skip the first four states holding primaries and caucuses: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

The same poll showed Warren nearly tied for 2nd place with several other 2020 candidates. When asked by BuzzFeed News about the reasons for excluding Warren from the Trump match-up question in the poll, the pollster responded that they had “‘space and time’ for just five candidate matchups…[and] Amy Klobuchar was selected as the fifth candidate.” Many weren’t satisfied with that answer.

Mentions of Warren have consistently been missing in cable news coverage for the past few weeks. Her Iowa caucus night speech was cut off shortly after it began on major TV networks in favor of switching to Biden, even though she placed above him in that contest, while her New Hampshire speech wasn’t carried live at all on many cable networks. According to the Television News Archive and the GDELT project, a Google-backed project that tracks media mentions globally, Warren ranks in 6th place among Democratic candidates’ coverage on cable news from Feb. 12 to 17.

While current mainstream coverage seems to have written off her candidacy, Warren has continued to hold huge events on the campaign trail, like recently in Virginia, a Super Tuesday state that will hold its primary on March 3.

She has also been campaigning in Nevada and South Carolina, sending surrogates on the trail, and recently announced her plan “to help boost America’s small businesses.” In her New Hampshire primary night speech, Warren was the only candidate to mention Roger Stone’s alleged “sweetheart deal” with the Dept. of Justice and Attorney General Bill Barr, which many federal prosecutors and former DOJ employees see as an alarming sign of the corruption at that department. She introduced legislation in the Senate aimed at preventing such moves in the future. Addressing corruption in government is a central issue in Warren's campaign.

Sexism and the double standards that men and women candidates face account for some of the differences in coverage, but not all of it. Writer Rebecca Traister, who has authored books on how women have been treated in media throughout history, pointed out that political pundits often like to create their own narratives, and then shape coverage to meet that:

To further tease out that example, fellow woman candidate Amy Klobuchar has received more media attention than Warren since the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, because she wasn’t considered a top contender for the nomination before that. Data shows that among Democratic primary voters, Warren is more popular — but cable news producers and online editors are making the decision to primarily cover just one of the two women.

While this treatment hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed in some online spaces — see The Nation’s piece on how “The Erasure of Elizabeth Warren Continues” — mainstream coverage can make a difference in the perceived viability of a candidate and can therefore affect vital campaign operations like fundraising. Bloomberg has benefited from paid and mainstream media coverage despite his lack of pledged delegates in the race so far, and he’s spending an unprecedented amount of money on his campaign. As New York Times writer Charlie Warzel recently said of Bloomberg’s well-funded meme campaign, “Who cares about inorganic motives if the attention they generate is very organic?”

Meanwhile, Warren, who has emphasized small-dollar grassroots fundraising like Sanders, has had to put out asks for donations that are getting less attention — but that are no less critical to the race.

Warzel’s piece, entitled “Michael Bloomberg Is Hacking Your Attention,” has another point that’s very relevant to Warren erasure in media: “Attention is like television airtime in a battleground state: There’s a finite amount of it.”

Potential VP candidate and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams also spoke about this in a NowThis interview last week, regarding how the overwhelmingly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire also dictate media coverage of the primary race because they go first: “The problem with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary taking up all the oxygen is that there's no breath left for anyone else.” There are still 98% of delegates left to award in the Democratic race.

Three years ago, Warren was silenced in the U.S. Senate when trying to speak during former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. She was reading an objection from Coretta Scott King that pointed out Sessions’ anti-Black record on civil rights. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut her off, and when asked for an explanation, he said: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

That phrase became a rallying cry for feminists everywhere, as a summary of the obstacles women face when trying to speak up. In an embodiment of that, despite the uneven coverage she’s received since the primary officially began, she is still focused on running her campaign. On Iowa caucus night, she said, “The fight we’re in, the fight to save our democracy is an uphill battle. But our campaign is built for the long haul and we are just getting started.”​​​​​​​