Republicans appear to have owned the morning news cycle in 2011.
If you were watching the major Sunday morning talk shows last year, your odds of seeing a Republican Member of Congress in the guest chair were far greater than seeing a Democratic Member of Congress.
GOP lawmakers appeared on the Sunday shows nearly twice as often as Democratic lawmakers in 2011, a dominance far greater than the prior two years, according to a Roll Call database of Members' television appearances.
Roll Call's "Face Time" feature has for many years tracked appearances of Members of Congress on five major Sunday talk shows: "Face the Nation" on CBS, NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week," CNN's "State of the Union" and "Fox News Sunday."
In 2009 and 2010, Republican Members held a small advantage over Democratic Members in appearances on these programs, getting 52 percent of the invites in both years. In both years, CBS had more Democrats as guests than Republicans by a narrow margin; in the same period, Fox News had more Republican guests by a wider margin.
But in 2011, the GOP lawmakers captured 64 percent of the Congressional appearances on the five shows that Roll Call tracks, and every network featured more Republican lawmakers than Democrats. Of 330 Congressional appearances tallied by Roll Call last year, 210 went to Republicans and only 120 went to Democrats — fewer if you subtract the eight appearances made by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
The trend plays out in each network as well as in aggregate. For example, in 2009, CNN's "State of the Union" featured Republican Members of Congress 43 times and Democrats 41 times, plus three by Democratic-leaning Independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Lieberman. In 2010, the show had 35 Democratic lawmaker appearances, Lieberman was on twice and Republican Members appeared 28 times. But in 2011, the numbers flipped, with 51 Republican appearances, 28 Democrats and three visits by Lieberman.
Sources at CNN and ABC point out that Roll Call's tally counts only Members of Congress; the shows generally achieve a partisan balance by inviting members of the Democratic administration — or President Barack Obama's campaign apparatus — to counter the appearances of Republican lawmakers who are the newsmakers in Congress.
A change in the partisan balance of talk-show guests overall may simply be a reflection of news value. Michael Shanahan, assistant director of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, said, "Democrats aren't all that interesting."
The major players in politics last year were Republicans, who captured control of the House and drove a dramatic debate over spending cuts and debt. "Really, who were the actors in this drama? Republicans," Shanahan said.
Some of the Republican TV gains in 2011 are clearly connected to the tumultuous GOP presidential primary season. Rep. Michele Bachmann made no Sunday show appearances in 2009 and only two in 2010, but last year the Minnesota Republican and short-term presidential hopeful made 20 appearances on these programs, topping the list for all Congressional talkers.