On Election Day Eve, Study Finds Biggest Winner May Be None Of The Above

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.”

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1 comment about "On Election Day Eve, Study Finds Biggest Winner May Be None Of The Above".
  1. John Berard from Credible Context , November 5, 2012 at 6:37 p.m.
    This column is a very good example of current political reporting criticism -- it could have been written a year ago and merely given today's publish date. So, you are shocked, shocked to find negative advertising leading to negative views. Even those initiatives that seek to stake out positive ground get ground up for feed in the horse race metaphor that dominates coverage of it. The most wistful comment on all this was found in Michael Lewis' story in Vanity Fair on President Obama. The President was surprised that elected officials don't pay a price for bad behavior. The reason might be found, in part, in the persistence of reporters to overweight what is happening now. The seeds of tomorrow's outcome ought to be seen in what was sown six years ago. But that may be to long ago to remember. Then-Governor Romney and then-Senator Obama have records on which they can be judged. Easier, though, to glide along the surface of it all and endorse "none of the above."