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The impact of media on the constant cycle of election campaigns

December 7, 2016, 5: The negativity was not unique to the 2016 election cycle but instead part of a pattern in place since the 1980s and one that is not limited to election coverage. The study tracks news coverage from the second week of August 2016 to the day before Election Day. The research was partially funded by the John S. She was criticized for everything from her speaking style to her use of emails. But over the full course of the election, it was Clinton, not Trump, who was more often the target of negative coverage see Figure 1.

Overall, the coverage of her candidacy was 62 percent negative to 38 percent positive, while his coverage was 56 percent negative to 44 percent positive. Full campaign covers period from January 1, 2015-November 7, 2016. General election covers period from August 8-November 7, 2016.

  • Trump wallowed in a cascade of separate controversies;
  • His personal traits, such as his relationship with business associates, also accounted for 4 percent.

Excludes reports that were neutral in tone. Such reports accounted for about a third of the coverage. Negative coverage was the order of the day in the general election. It peaked at 81 percent negative in mid-October, but there was not a single week where it dropped below 64 percent negative.

Even those numbers understate the level of negativity. At any given moment in the campaign, one of the candidates has the momentum, which is a source of positive coverage. As journalists would have it, the Trump and Clinton camps were the cause of all the negativity. And it was certainly true that the election was unusually nasty. But to attribute the tone entirely to the opposing camps is to ignore the pattern of presidential election coverage during the past few decades see Figure 3.

Not since 1984—eight elections ago—have the presidential nominees enjoyed positive press coverage. The 2016 campaign did not even top the record for negativity. That distinction belongs to the 2000 campaign when news reports questioned whether Al Gore was trustworthy enough and George W. Bush was smart enough to deserve the presidency. Neutral stories are excluded. Percentages are the average for each election for the two major-party nominees.

  • She was criticized for everything from her speaking style to her use of emails;
  • And other newspapers led with an image of Donald Trump;
  • And candidates have unprecedented control over the images they present;
  • Politicians are also relying on traditional news services to pick up on their social media content as a form of free advertising.

In that same period, news reports featuring Muslims have been 6-to-1 negative. Tone of Coverage of Selected Topics, 2010-2016 Source: The car wreck that was the 2016 election had many drivers.

Journalists were not alone in the car, but their fingerprints were all over the wheel. Its bias is a decided preference for the negative. As scholar Michael Robinson noted, the news media seem to have taken some motherly advice and turned it upside down. Civility and sound proposals are no longer the stuff of headlines, which instead give voice to those who are skilled in the art of destruction. Our Election News Reports: Methodology This report is the fourth in our series of reports on media coverage of the 2016 presidential election.

In the case of the newspapers, the analysis covers all sections except sports, obituaries, and letters to the editor. Op-eds and editorials are included, but letters from the public are not. The impact of media on the constant cycle of election campaigns talk shows are not included. The data for our studies are provided by Media Tenor, a firm that specializes in collecting and coding news content. Coding of individual actors e. For each report, coders identify relevant themes topics and actors and evaluate the tone positive or negative on a six-point scale.

These tonality ratings are then combined to classify each report for each actor as being negative, positive, or having no clear tone.

The percentages presented in this paper are the combined averages for the ten news outlets. The crowd was so deep that it extended like fingers into the streets, spreading out from Cadillac Square. Today, the general election is merely a continuation of a campaign that begins in earnest more than a year earlier. Nevertheless, for some voters, the general election is a time to pay closer attention. The 2016 primary election debates had record audiences.

Yet those debates drew on average fewer than a fourth as many viewers as did each of the three general election presidential debates.

They look instead to the media to learn about the campaign. Rock-ribbed Republicans and diehard Democrats can see the same story and draw radically different conclusions.

Nevertheless, the news media have what journalist Theodore H. What aspects of the campaign were put on public display? What aspects received only slight attention? During that period, Trump received 63 percent of the coverage compared to 37 percent for his most heavily covered rival. When asked to explain their focus on Trump, journalists say that he made himself readily available to the press.

But availability has never been the standard of candidate coverage. If that were so, third-party candidates and also-rans would dominate coverage. The general election period continued the pattern see Figure 5. Week after week, Trump got more press attention than did Clinton.

Overall, Trump received 15 percent more coverage than she did. Trump also had more opportunities to define Clinton than she had to define him. Yet when the talk was about Trump, he was again more likely to be the voice behind the message. They hunger for news exposure. Trump delivered that type of material by the cart load. Both nominees tweeted heavily during the campaign but journalists monitored his tweets more closely. Both nominees delivered speech after speech on the campaign trail but journalists followed his speeches more intently.

Percentages based on Trump and Clinton coverage only. Other presidential candidates and the vice-presidential nominees are excluded. Also excludes neutral reports. Campaign Coverage by Topic Source: Polls are a snap to report and provide a constant source of fresh material. Their influence on election news goes beyond the stories that describe the latest poll results. Poll results increasingly frame the content of other stories, as journalists use them to explain shifts in candidate strategy or the impact of the latest development.

Policy issues—what the nominees would do if elected—rarely attract a high level of press coverage, and the 2016 election was no exception. Although candidates in their stump speeches focus on the policies they would pursue as president, their stands do not receive close attention from journalists. In the 2016 general election, policy issues accounted for 10 percent of the news coverage—less than a fourth the space given to the horserace.

Policies lack the novelty that journalists seek in their stories. A new development the impact of media on the constant cycle of election campaigns thrust a new issue into the campaign, but policy problems are typically longstanding. If they came and went overnight, they would not be problems. Thus it is that when a candidate first announces a policy stand, it makes news. The 2016 campaign fit the pattern to a tee. They accounted for 17 percent of the coverage—one in every six news reports.

In any case, their relationship to the question of who would make the better president is not what makes them newsworthy. During the 2016 general election, more than 90 percent of the news coverage of controversies was negative in tone see Figure 7. Tone of Campaign Coverage, by Topic Source: Percentages exclude news reports that were neutral in tone. They ran nearly 3-to-1 negative—73 percent to 27 percent. The horserace coverage was the most positive area of coverage, though it too was negative on balance—59 percent negative to 41 percent positive.

On the other hand, journalists give more play to losing than to winning, so horserace coverage tilts toward the negative. That pattern has been found to apply also to presidential approval ratings.

Tweeting 2016: How Social Media is Shaping the Presidential Election

The major departure was that his general election coverage was overwhelmingly negative in tone. As Trump rose from single digits in the polls and then won key primaries, he got favorable press. It was a story of growing momentum, rising poll numbers, ever larger crowds, and electoral success. During his best weeks, the coverage ran 2-to-1 negative over positive. In his worst weeks, the ratio was more than 10-to-1. If there was a silver lining for Trump, it was that his two best weeks were the ones just preceding the November balloting.

Fox provided Trump his most favorable coverage, but it was still nearly 3-to-1 negative over positive. The Wall Street Journal was his next best outlet, but its coverage ran 4-to-1 negative.

Excludes neutral news reports. His policy stands got more press attention than is usually the case. On the other hand, his leadership ability and experience were infrequently touched upon in the general election, accounting for 4 percent of his coverage.