Campaign Coverage Still Focuses on 'Horse Race,' Says Study

Article excerpt

News coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign has centered predominantly on just five candidates, offered very little information about their public records or what they would do in office, and focused more than 60% of stories on political and tactical aspects of the race, according to a joint study released Monday.

The report, from the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University also found that news outlets gave Barack Obama the most favorable treatment, while John McCain received the least favorable, but covered Demcrats more than Republicans in general in the race for president.

"Overall, Democrats also have received more positive coverage than Republicans (35% of stories vs. 26%), while Republicans received more negative coverage than Democrats (35% vs. 26%)," the study found. "For both parties, a plurality of stories, 39%, were neutral or balanced."

Finally, researchers found that most voters are not getting the coverage they want, citing another survey that claims most citizens want more coverage of issues and candidates' history.

"Even coverage of issues and candidate background was often cast through a political lens, frequently in the form of exploring the potential vulnerabilities of key candidates," the report stated. "For [Hillary] Clinton, this strategic focus translated into more coverage of her evolving stances on the Iraq War, something that created strains with elements of her party's more liberal base. For Giuliani it resulted in coverage of his position on abortion and his marriage history, two areas that raise questions about his chances with the conservative base of his party."

The study reviewed 1,742 campaign stories that appeared between January and May 2007 in 48 different news outlets, which spanned print, online, network television, cable television, and radio.

"In all, 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign," results showed. "That is nearly four times the number of stories about the personal backgrounds of the candidates (17%) or the candidates' ideas and policy proposals (15%). And just one percent of stories examined the candidates' records or past public performance, the study found.

"The press' focus on fundraising, tactics and polling iseven more evident if one looks at how stories were framed rather than the topic of the story," the report adds. "Just 12% of stories examined were presented in a way that explained how citizens might be affected by the election, while nearly nine-out-of-ten stories (86%) focused on matters that largely impacted only the parties and the candidates. …