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The 2015 Fox Primary: It's Trump, And Then Everyone Else

  • From May 1 to December 15, leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump lapped the rest of the field in interview airtime on Fox News. Trump's 22 hours and 46 minutes of airtime was more than twice as much as any other candidate during the period studied. Trump racked up more airtime on the network than Sen. Ted Cruz, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Sen. Marco Rubio combined.

    Interviews with the Republican field have been a near-constant fixture of Fox News' programming during the second half of 2015, and The Fox Primary is showing no signs of slowing down as we approach 2016 and the first primaries. 

    So far this cycle, the network has already surpassed coverage of the 2012 campaign season: During the period studied, Fox News aired more than 117 hours worth of interviews with Republican candidates. Over a similar time frame (June 1 to January 22, 2012), Fox devoted 77 hours and 24 minutes to interviews of the then-candidates. (The disparity is even more striking considering the 2012 report included appearances on Fox News' sister network, Fox Business.)  

    Lagging well behind Trump were New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor and former Fox News host Mike Huckabee, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who round out the top five. Each spent less than 10 hours on Fox over the same time period.

    Hannity comes out as the top Fox show at 25 hours and 21 minutes of time devoted to airing interviews with Republican presidential hopefuls. That's more than double the next show on the list, Fox & Friends' weekday edition, which clocked in 12 hours and 26 minutes of time.

    Donald Trump

    Trump has led in total time on Fox since his announcement in mid-June, but he hasn't been everywhere on the network. Hannity hosted Trump a total of eight hours over the last seven and a half months -- far more than any other show. The next in line is Fox & Friends at just less than half that amount (and a bit more if you include the weekend editions in that number). The O'Reilly Factor and On the Record have also given Trump a significant amount of interview time -- any other shows he has appeared on have devoted around a half hour or less to Trump.

    Notably, Trump has spent only 10 minutes on Megyn Kelly's primetime show, The Kelly File, as the two have waged a high-profile feud over the past several months.

    The Top Tier

    The Republican field was especially large this presidential cycle, with 17 declared candidates at the start. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Lindsey Graham, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have each since dropped out of the race, but that still leaves an unwieldy 13 candidates. As a result, news media outlets hosting the primary debates have split the candidates into tiers. Using the most recent CNN debate on December 15 as a guide, Media Matters decided to look at those deemed at the top of the field.

    Trump's upward trajectory on Fox News quickly took hold as his time jumped from a low of 51 minutes in May to an astounding high of over 5 hours in August. Trump has routinely spent between 2 and 5 hours per month on Fox since announcing his candidacy in mid-June, and December is likely to be no different, where he already has more than an hour and a half of interview airtime just 15 days into the month.

    Rubio is also on an upward trend; though, his is not as pronounced as Trump's. Rubio's boost on Fox coincides with an increase in his poll numbers in November and reports that Rubio is showing “signs of momentum” in picking up endorsements from the Republican establishment.

    Three candidates experienced large, momentary spikes in their numbers -- Christie in September, Ohio Governor John Kasich in July, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in October -- that quickly dropped in the following month. Each of these can be attributed to one of the “hour-long” interviews (after adjusting for commercials, these interviews are typically around 40 minutes in length) that Hannity and Outnumbered provide by hosting a candidate for the entire duration of the show. Kasich got his Hannity special in July, and Outnumbered made Christie and Paul “one lucky guy” in September and October, respectively.

    Fiorina's time dropped significantly in October -- during which she participated in only three interviews on Fox. Her slide corresponds with her month-long decline in the polls that month.

    Likewise, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson's poll numbers have continued to fall since November, and his time on Fox may reflect a similar drop in December. As of the 15th, Carson has just over a half hour on the network; whereas, this time in November, Carson had close to an hour of time.

    Texas Senator Ted Cruz has slowly trended upward over the seven and a half months studied, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- after an apparent push to appear on Fox more -- has flat-lined.

    [click to enlarge the charts]

    The Top Shows

    While the Republican candidates have appeared on a wide range of Fox News shows, we took a closer look at the data from Fox's evening and primetime programming as well as its highly rated morning show and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s flagship Sunday morning political talk show: Fox & FriendsSpecial Report with Bret BaierOn the Record with Greta Van SusterenThe O'Reilly FactorThe Kelly File, and Hannity, and Fox News Sunday.

    Fox & Friends has hosted 14 of the initial 17 current and former candidates, passing over only Cruz (although, his wife, Heidi Cruz, appeared on December 10 for a sit-down interview), former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, and former New York Governor George Pataki. (Cruz has appeared on the Saturday edition of the program, however.) Fox & Friends has devoted more time to Trump than any other candidate (and it isn't close), which isn't too surprising since he used to have a weekly call-in slot.

    Fox's primetime shows gave sometimes large pluralities to Trump -- 37 percent of all time on The O'Reilly Factor and 32 percent of all time on Hannity spent on the Republican primary went to Trump. On the Record also gave Trump the most airtime -- 22 percent, just above what Fiorina (18 percent) and Christie (12 percent) received.

    Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday each divvied up their candidate appearances a little more evenly. Fox News Sunday gave an edge to Fiorina while Special Report gave Rubio a little more time than the others.

    (A table including full time data for the candidates on each show is included at the bottom of this report.) 


    The following table shows each of the top tier candidates' total time on Fox for each month. December only includes data through December 15.

    The following table shows all candidates' total times for each program in the study. A red time signifies the candidate with the most time on the show in the corresponding row.

    [click the image to enlarge it]


    For this study, we used's “2016 Presidential Candidate Watch List.” Jim Gilmore's inclusion in the study began after his formal announcement on July 30. Rick Perry's data extends until September 11, Scott Walker's data extends until September 22, and Bobby Jindal's data extends to November 17, which is when each candidate respectively ended their campaigns. Appearances from these former candidates after those dates were not included in this study.

    Media Matters searched the Nexis database and our internal video archive for all guest appearances on Fox News Channel between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and Fox News Sunday for the 17 former and current presidential candidates: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker.

    This study includes all original appearances between May 1 and December 15, 2015. Repeat appearances were counted if they aired on a new day. Appearances during early morning post-debate specials were counted.

    Prior monthly Fox Primary reports are available beginning here.

    Charts by Oliver Willis. Additional research by Media Matters' research staff.