Study examines election coverage

Executive editorNovember 3, 2012 

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have received about equal amounts of coverage overall this year by the mainstream media and neither has received much of an advantage over the other, according to a study released Friday.

The study by the Pew Research Center turned the microscope on the media, examining coverage of the presidential campaign during the eight crucial weeks from the party conventions through the second debate. At a time when the media take almost as much heat as the candidates, this study put some numbers to the coverage.

Pew analyzed 2,457 stories from 49 outlets from Aug. 27 through Oct. 21. The mainstream media they tracked included three broadcast networks, three cable news networks, the 12 most popular news websites, 11 newspaper front pages and programming from the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. The study did not include The News Tribune.

Here were some of the other findings:

 • Both candidates received more negative coverage than positive coverage.

 • Debate coverage was more about who won than what the candidates said.

 • Overall, Obama received slightly more positive coverage – 19 percent of stories – than Romney – 15 percent of stories. However, the coverage advantage changed midway through the time period. In September, when Romney was criticized for remarks about Libya and a video in which he called out 47 percent of Americans for being dependent on the government, the coverage favored Obama. After the first presidential debate and through the end of the period, Romney got more favorable stories than Obama.

 • Coverage by social media – Twitter, Facebook and blogs – was “relentlessly negative” and mostly unaffected by campaign events.

 • Coverage of Obama was almost twice as positive in 2008 as it was this year. Coverage of Romney in 2012 was much more positive than coverage of John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, in 2008.

 • Cable news stood out from other mainstream media in its negativity. On MSNBC, negative stories about Romney outnumbered positive ones by a ratio of 23 to 1. On Fox, negative stories about Obama outnumbered positive ones by a ratio of 8 to 1.

Newspaper coverage also stood out: “Unlike the media overall, front-page newspaper stories about the 2012 campaign offered a more favorable narrative for Romney than Obama. This year, 19 percent of Romney’s coverage has been positive compared to 16 percent negative, while 12 percent of Obama’s has been positive and 18 percent negative.”

Newspapers also published more neutral stories this year – more than 65 percent of stories overall. In 2008, about one-quarter of newspaper stories were neutral.


The TNT newsroom is planning a party Tuesday – our first-ever Election Night Online Party – and invites you to attend.

Tune into starting about 7 p.m. We’ll use CoverItLive, a new blogging and chat tool, to cover the election in real time.

We’ll provide the breaking news and analysis from our reporters – aided by 14 students from Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Washington Tacoma. You’ll provide the questions and comments that help drive our coverage. (You’re on your own for the pizza.)

If you plan to watch the national coverage on TV, pull up your laptop, tablet or smartphone to track the state and local races with us.

See you on Tuesday. No RSVP required.


Here’s one more invitation from the TNT: Join us for breakfast or lunch any weekday at the new bistro that opened recently on our first floor.

The Neighborhood Bistro serves daily hot specials, grab-and-go breakfast and lunch items, made-to-order sandwiches, espresso and more.

We’re proud to have partnered with Goodwill Industries to open this restaurant that serves TNT employees and is open to the public. The bistro is staffed by students in Goodwill’s culinary training course designed to teach essential hands-on job skills.

“It’s a great community partnership,” said TNT publisher Dave Zeeck. “It’s a chance to get a good deal on a meal, a latte, or Starbucks coffee. But it’s also a chance to extend a hand up to people in the community looking to get a foothold in the food-service economy.”

The bistro is open 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Its entrance is on the front of the TNT building at 1950 S. State St. in Tacoma.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434

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