Presidential contender Andrew Yang has had considerably low speaking times at Democratic debates compared to his strong polling

Democratic presidential candidates Yang and Steyer arrive for the start of the fifth 2020 campaign debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

On Saturday, months of tensions between Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and MSNBC boiled over when Yang announced on Twitter that he would no longer appear on the network until they apologised for leaving him off multiple on-air chyrons and only giving him “a fraction” of speaking time in presidential debates.

Yang’s tweets spoke to a larger pattern: an Insider data analysis found that Yang has had the least amount of speaking time in Democratic debate compared to how much we would expect him to speak given his polling numbers.

Groups of Yang’s supporters have been sceptical of the media’s and Democratic establishment’s handling of the candidate, who unlike his peers in the Democratic nomination fight, has not held elected office. This has ranged from a mild distrust of the establishment to full-on arguments of deliberate exclusion, a #YangMediaBlackout.

Yang’s performance in the debates – two of which have been hosted by MSNBC so far – has been another sore point for the Yang Gang, and data analysed by Insider shows they have a point: given Yang’s polling position, he speaks considerably less at debates than one would otherwise expect.

We compared The New York Times’ measurements of speaking time at the debates going back toMay to the Morning Consult polling from immediately preceding the debates. For each time a candidate appeared at a debate, we had how long they got to speak and how they did in polls right before the debate.

Every dot on this chart is a single candidate appearance at a debate. The higher they are on the chart, the more they got to talk. The further right they are on the chart, the better they polled that week.

Yang debates 1

In short, Yang has spoken less than a candidate polling at his level would be expected to at every single debate he’s been to so far. He is the only remaining candidate in the race for whom this is the case.

In the interest of absolutely full disclosure here, I concede we did use what Yang claims is his favourite tool: maths. The trendline is a regression that tells us basically what a person’s speaking time would be expected to be given their polling. This turns up some cool facts, such as:

  • About 42% of the variance in speaking time is explained by how well a candidate was polling at that time. This makes sense: there’s a reason some candidates get more questions than others, and it’s because they’re better known or favoured.
  • The formula of that line gives us a pretty interesting rule of thumb: any candidate who makes the debate state is expected to get about 9 minutes of speaking time regardless of their polling, and then an additional minute for every 4 points they’re up in the polls.
  • That means based on the overall data, a candidate polling at 0%, like Tom Steyer, would be expected to talk about 9 minutes, while a candidate polling in the 20% neighbourhood, like Sen.Bernie Sanders, would be expected to get about 14 minutes.

The big picture: Yang is missing out on valuable air time.

Based on this information, we can figure out a crucial statistic: throughout five debates, who is outperforming their polling based on speaking time, and who’s underperforming?

For example: at the October 15 debate, Yang spoke for 8 minutes, 32 seconds, per The New York Times. A candidate polling at 3% would, per the regression, be estimated to speak for 10 minutes, 3 seconds, so I can conclude that Yang lost on about a minute and a half.

On the other hand, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke was also polling at 3% the week of the October debate but spoke 13 minutes, 9 seconds. I’d conclude Beto got about 3 minutes more than I’d otherwise expect.

After five debates, this is seriously starting to add up to Yang’s deficit. Overall, given his polling, we’d expect Yang to have had almost 15 minutes more time spent speaking on stage. Here’s how each candidate did:

Yang debates 2

Editor’s note: This graphic has been corrected from an earlier version that switched the labels of the columns.

What’s going on here?

There are plenty of explanations that are hardly nefarious. In debates, when a candidate is acknowledged by a rival, they get time to respond. Yang’s outsider angle means that he’s not exactly in the thick of it when it comes to the big discussions about health care policy that have defined so many of the debate time.

And consistent with his style and messaging throughout the campaign, Yang hasn’t attempted to talk over, interrupting, or land targeted punches at his fellow candidates in any of the five debates he’s participated in. In the last debate, he even complimented Steyer’s efforts to combat climate change.

“A bunch of career politicians interrupting and launching personal attacks on each other really isn’t Andrew’s style, that’s Trump game,” senior Yang campaign adviser Randy Jones told Insider in July. “If Democrats try to play Trump’s game, we’re going to lose.”

Plus, he’s hardly alone. Sanders’ supporters may have justifiable beef, as their candidate has absolutely been in the middle of some of the most contentious internecine fights, but nevertheless is still coming in below expectations based on what befits his polling. Biden, as a strong early frontrunner, never dominated the debate to the same extent that his polling dominated much of the field.

More analysis is likely needed, but a perfect counterpoint is Sen. Cory Booker. Indeed, both Booker and Yang have been peers in polling, and each was expected to speak for 49.8 minutes over the course of the five debates. But while Booker has spoken for over 62 minutes, Yang’s gotten just 35. Booker consistently spoke more than one to five minutes more than he’d be expected to, which indeed is the mark of a savvy operator and talented debater.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang listens to a question from moderator Craig Melvin during a forum held by gun safety organisations the Giffords group and March For Our Lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 2, 2019. Steve Marcus/Reuters

Why Yang’s fans are ticked.

Yang’s fervent backers, who term themselves the Yang Gang, have proven themselves to be an incredibly valuable asset as they have powered Yang’s impressive grassroots fundraising and his rise in Democratic primary polling, both of which have enabled him to qualify for all the debates that have taken place so far.

While Yang is running as a Democrat, his never having held elected office or being formally attached to a political party has given him a remarkable amount of latitude to carve out his own distinct political brand outside the typical confines of party politics, and he’s brought that perspective to every debate stage.

But Yang’s highly unique and unprecedented cross-partisan appeal could be turning out to be a double-edged sword. While he’s locking down loyal supporters at a faster rate than any of the other non-frontrunner candidates, Yang’s supporters argue that because he is not a traditional politician running within the existing parameters of Democratic politics, his message is being silenced by the mainstream media.

For the past several months, Yang’s loyal base of extremely online supporters has been collecting meticulous evidence of what the see as bias against Yang and other outsider candidates from prominent media outlets using the hashtag #YangMediaBlackout.

The Yang campaign and the Yang Gang’s public war against the media gained national attention at the first Democratic debate in Miami on June 27. Yang asserted in off-the-cuff remarks to supporters that MSNBC cutting off his mic contributed to him speaking for just two minutes and 38 seconds – the least of any candidate – a claim the network thoroughly denied.

Prominent Yang supporter Scott Santens has created an extensively detailed graphic and website visualising all the times since mid-March that graphics of 2020 candidates’ polling or debate qualification aired on networks including CNN and MSNBC have inexplicably excluded Yang from their coverage.

Most recently, the MSNBC show “Up” with David Gura apologised for a graphic excluding Yang just days before the November 20 MSNBC and Washington Post debate, infuriating Yang supporters even more.

Yang sent a warning to the network in his Saturday tweets,writing, “The whole time we have gotten stronger. This is actually bad for MSNBC. It will only get worse after I make the next debates and keep rising in the polls. The people are smarter than MSNBC would like to think.”

Read more:

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