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Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate and How Did the Media Cover It?


In this week's State of the Election, Cision analyzes media coverage of the 2020 VP Debate

Published on October 10, 2020

Cision, an industry-leading earned media communications management and media advisory platform, today published its media analysis of the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. Cision looked at media coverage of key voter issues, how local media in swing states judged the debate, and of course “the fly”.

“Cision’s State of the Election series was developed to provide people with a nonpartisan view of how the media covers the 2020 presidential election,” said Seth Gilpin, Product Marketing Manager at Cision. “This week’s analysis proves the power that local media has, particularly during an election, and how COVID-19 continues to dominate media coverage.”

Local media coverage:

Cision’s analysis looks at how local media in nine swing states judged the debate based on earned media mentions. The findings were:

  • Arizona: Harris won 12 to 5
  • Florida: Pence won 32 to 8
  • Georgia: Harris won 18 to 14
  • Michigan: Pence won 11 to 4
  • North Carolina: Harris won 11 to 8
  • Ohio: Pence won 11 to 4
  • Pennsylvania: Pence won 14 to 2
  • Texas: Pence won 37 to 22
  • Wisconsin: Pence Won 14 to 8

Overall, 62% of local media publications in swing states declared Pence the winner. But interestingly, based on the 2016 electoral map – if Biden/Harris flipped Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina – and all other states Trump and Clinton states remained unchanged – Biden would win the presidential race with 274 electoral votes.

When looking at the national media as a whole – of the coverage captured, 54% of publications declared Pence the winner, 40% said Harris won, and 6% did not designate a victor.

Media coverage of voter issues:

The vice-presidential debate covered nine voter issues and Cision’s analysis focuses on the three top voting issues, as defined by Pew Research: the economy, COVID-19, and the Supreme Court.

Days after President Trump’s COVID-19 hospitalization and as the United States experiences yet another spike in cases – COVID-19 received the majority of debate coverage – with 51% of the share of voice.

The Supreme Court and the economy were nearly equal – with 25% and 24% of the media coverage. Healthcare received the least mentions with 13%.

And what about that pesky fly?

The fly that landed on Pence’s head during the debate received significant media coverage: more than healthcare, climate change, racial inequality, law and order, foreign policy, and election integrity. Before the debate had even ended, “The Fly” was trending across on Twitter, generating more than 400,000 tweets.

Read Cision’s full media analysis of the VP debate here.


Cision is politically unaffiliated and does not endorse any political parties, platforms, campaigns, or candidates.

Deputy Editor