After a CBS editor accidentally let it slip that GOP candidates doing better in the race would, naturally, be given more of a chance to speak during televised debates, we've charted candidate speaking time against their airtime in Saturday's CBS/National Journal debate. The issue was brought to light by an accidental "Reply All" from CBS political director John Dickerson over the weekend. He emailed a colleague about a post-debate follow-up CBS would conduct with candidate Michele Bachmann, "Okay let’s keep it loose though since she’s not going to get many questions and she’s nearly off the charts in the hopes that we can get someone else," according to CNN's Political Ticker blog. Of course, a spokesperson for Bachmann happened to be CC'd on the email, and her campaign was furious over what it called CBS's premeditated media bias. (CNN's Howard Kurtz, for one, defended CBS time-management policies for debates.)
All of which led the blog Mediaite to crunch the numbers to see if CBS really did give more airtime to top candidates. Nando Di Fino combed through the debate transcript and counted the number of words each candidate said during the debate. Charted below are the results, with each candidate's percentage of Mediaite's word total from the November 12 debate in light red and that candidate's current support in the polls according to Real Clear Politics in a dark red.
The conclusion: a correlation exists, but it's not that strong. As we see above, if a candidate's dark red bar is longer than the light red one, that means by CBS's logic that candidate isn't getting as much airtime as his or her poll numbers would justify. The candidates that got less speaking time than their poll allocation by wide margins are just two: perpetually shunned liberatarian Ron Paul and the much-spoken-about-of-late Herman Cain. Bachmann actually falls in the category of candidates who spoke much more than their polling would allocate: she's got only 4.1 percent of the primary electorate's support, but consumed 9.1 percent of all words said during Saturday's debate. Also among the over-allocated candidates are Rick Santorum (15.1 percent of the words vs. 1.9 percent in the polls), Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich's percentages were actually pretty closely matched.