Coverage of the 2012 presidential candidates is overwhelmingly negative, and journalists reporting on the campaign have less control over the election themes, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Since 2000, the percentage of campaign themes coming from the press has shrunk by half, the study says, from 50 percent to 27 percent. Meanwhile, the campaigns’ control on the assertions about the candidates has grown from 37 percent to 48 percent.
One reason for this is that the campaigns are delivering a more coordinated message earlier, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “In 2000, we didn’t see the level of advertising on the air in battleground states that we’re seeing now. Nothing even close to it,” he said. Reporters covering the campaign reinforce that paid media, he added.
Also, given the nature of iterative, online reporting, the stories that break out tend to be “ephemeral,” Rosenstiel said. When Romney surrogate John Sununu claimed Obama needs to “learn how to be an American,” the political press was whipped into a frenzy. The Obama campaign responded, and a news cycle was born. In this coverage, the press “balance has shifted to stenography versus mediating,” Rosenstiel said.
Pew found that neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama enjoyed an advantage in the coverage it studied from May 29 to August 5. In the press, 72 percent of the Obama “narrative” has been negative, compared to 71 percent of the Romney “narrative.” The last campaign to see such negativity was the 2004 presidential election, when pessimism about the Iraq War hung over the campaign.
While the U.S. economic recovery remains sluggish, Rosenstiel said the negativity in the current campaign comes more from the campaigns than the broader news surrounding the election.
Read the study here.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com