Dems and the Dailies: Numbers Crunch


New Yorkers awoke to the news this morning that Councilman Charles Barron is expected to quit the race for mayor. Well, New Yorkers who turned to page B6 of the Times or saw the small item on page 10 of the Daily News awoke to the news. The Post also ran the story, as did the New York Sun, making Wednesday Barron’s biggest media splash since opening his candidacy.

Barron was always unlikely to get intense media coverage because he was deemed a long shot thanks to his controversial views—the former Black Panther held a reception at City Hall for Robert Mugabe—and low name recognition (although for the media, the latter is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy). Besides, with the race just warming up, the papers have barely started covering the race anyway.

Even at this early stage, of course, some Democratic hopefuls have received more coverage than others. Since the New Year, City Council speaker Gifford Miller has earned 231 mentions in New York’s five dailies (Daily News, Newsday, Post, Sun, and Times), according to a nexis search. Former Bronx Beep Freddy Ferrer saw his name in print 152 times. Congressman Anthony Weiner was in the papers 102 times, Manhattan borough prez Virginia Fields 79 times and Barron 68.

What determines who gets covered and how much? Certainly, there are intangible factors: Ferrer almost won the nomination in 2001, and as council speaker, Miller leads the loyal opposition to Mayor Mike. In addition, the skill of each campaign’s press staff comes into play in determining whether their man or woman gets ink. But what if you wanted a scientific answer?

Let’s take three possible indications of candidate strength or importance: The number of contributions they’ve received, the net money they’ve raised, and the number of constituents they directly represent. Miller, for example, has a strong lead in fundraising, with more than $4.2 million taken in compared to Ferrer’s $2.5 mil. Miller also has logged more than 5,000 individual contributions—about twice the number of his closest competitor. But with only 145,000 people in his council district, Miller directly represents far fewer New Yorkers than Fields (with 1.5 million Manhattanites) or Weiner (whose congressional district holds more than 600,000).

Which factor is most useful in predicting the number of mentions a candidate received? We can dredge up our Stats 101 notes and regress the number of 2005 newspaper mentions on our three independent variables: number of contributions, amount of contributions, number of constituents.

The winner is . . . “Amount of contributions.” It is the best predictor, explaining about 96 percent of the variation in number of newspaper mentions (its R-square was .96343, for those of you following along with those old stats notes). “Number of contributions” is next, with a rating of 78 percent. “Number of constituents” is a poor predictor, however, as it accounts for only 7 percent of the differences among candidates.

The conclusion: Money talks. Or math is silly.