Billions of dollars, more than a million TV spots, a dozen Red, White & Blogs, and untold MediaPost unsubscribes later and the 2012 political media season will wrap up tomorrow with the big winner most likely being “none of the above” – at least insofar as the sentiment of the American public toward political advertising and media spin goes. Interestingly, in spite of – or maybe because of – all that political media heft, the perception of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was largely negative on the eve of Election Day, according to a not-so-shocking study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The study, which examined professional journalism coverage and social media discussions during the eight-weeks of the general election campaign through Oct. 21, found both candidates generated more negative coverage than positive, though Obama had a slight edge over Romney.
Nineteen percent of the stories about Obama were “clearly favorable in tone,” while 30% were unfavorable and 51% were mixed – or what pollsters might dub “undecided” – for a net difference of 11 points of negativity, the study found. Fifteen percent of Romney’s coverage, by comparison, was favorable, 38% unfavorable, and 47% mixed, for a net negative rating of 23 points.
The study found that almost all of the difference in the tone of coverage was in so-called “horse race” stories, which when removed, there was little distinction in the tone of media coverage between the two candidates.
“In stories about the two candidates’ policy ideas, biographies and records for the full eight weeks studied, 15% of Obama’s coverage was positive vs. 32% negative. For Romney it was 14% positive and 32% negative,” the study found.
Interestingly, the analysis found less overall horse race coverage than during the same period in 2008, meaning the press must have been focusing more on real issues.
In terms of social media, including Twitter, Facebook and blogs, the tone for both candidates was even harsher.
“If there is a tendency in press coverage it’s to echo the polls – and this year mostly that has been to the detriment of the candidate losing ground,” PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel said. “At the same time, the political discussion in social media is less sensitive to campaign events on the ground, and appears to be much more a barometer of the mood of people who use social media.”