MEDIA HAVE BAD NEWS FOR BOTH PARTIES

October 21, 2010

Press Release
October 21, 2010
Contact: Donald Rieck

STUDY FINDS ELECTION NEWS NEGATIVE BUT BALANCED

Election coverage on network news has featured twice as much bad press as good press for Democrats, Republicans, and Tea Party candidates alike, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. The study also found that Democratic policies got slightly better press than GOP policies, but GOP candidates received more optimistic coverage of their prospects in the campaign “horse race.” According to CMPA President and George Mason University Professor S. Robert Lichter, “On network news, opinions about the candidates in this election range from bad to worse.”

These results are the latest update from the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) 2010 Election News Watch Project. They are based on a scientific content analysis of all election news stories that aired that aired on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News from January 1 through Labor Day (September 6). CMPA researchers analyzed 174 stories, which contained 535 on-air evaluations of the candidates and 274 assessments of the horse race by sources and reporters. The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a media research center affiliated with George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

Negative evaluations of Democrats and Republicans alike have outpaced positive evaluations by a 2 to 1 margin. Comments about Democrats were 32% positive and 68% negative; comments about Republicans were 31% positive and 69% negative. And for all the media attention to “Tea Party” candidates, their media profile wasn’t much different from other candidates – 37% positive vs. 63% negative evaluations.

Examples:

I don’t know what [Congressional Republicans] even stand for anymore, and they’ve got to recognize that they have a problem. – Glenn Beck, ABC

Arlen [Specter], if you’re listening, why don’t you step down and let the young guys take over? – Philadelphia voter, ABC

This (Tea Party) … doesn’t have much leadership and doesn’t have much direction. – Rick Klein, ABC

Comments specifically directed to each party’s policies were even more negative: Policies favored by Democratic candidates received 28% favorable evaluations, compared to only 17% favorable evaluations for policies favored by GOP candidates. There were no significant differences among the three networks in the amounts of good and bad press they gave to the two parties.

In a separate analysis of how the networks rated the “horse race,” Republican candidates received 73% positive assessments of their prospects for election, compared to only 33% positive assessments of Democratic candidates’ chances.

Examples:

Democrats are at risk because the people… don’t want the incumbents in Washington and they represent more of those. – Matthew Dowd, ABC

Republicans now have a shot… to win back control of the Senate, something that was unthinkable. – Jonathon Karl, ABC

The coverage focused heavily on two themes: The economy was the subject of 43 discussions and voter anger generated 22. No other topic produced as many as ten discussions. Following far behind were race relations, the Ground Zero mosque dispute, and the war in Afghanistan, with eight discussions apiece. (However, half of the discussions of Afghanistan concerned the controversy over RNC Chairman Michael Steele calling it “a war of Obama’s choosing.”) These topics were followed in frequency by health care reform (seven discussions), illegal immigration (six), and the federal government’s role in society (six).

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored every presidential election and every new administration since 1988 using the same methodology. For CMPA findings on the Obama administration see: https://cmpa.gmu.edu/studies_political_obama.html

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