24 June 2008

Campaign-Finance Decisions Causing Trouble for Both Candidates

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

Obama is enjoying a tremendous lead in money raised to support his campaign, but he also seems to be winning the battle for favorable coverage on the issue of fundraising itself, which took a rather contentious turn last week.

Obama announced June 19 that he would not take public financing for the general election, a decision that means he is free to spend the record-breaking several hundred million dollars he’s raised thus far. The McCain camp says that announcement is a reversal of a pledge he’d made earlier in the campaign. McCain, meanwhile, has raised far less overall and plans to accept public financing.

Obama has received quite a bit of bad press over the announcement and has been labeled a flip-flopper by some. But it appears that the discussion of McCain’s resulting financing disadvantage, plus some finger-pointing at McCain by the Obama team as it defended the decision, has ultimately outweighed the flip-flopper criticism and produced more negative language in association with McCain than with Obama. Obama said his campaign would need the additional funds in expectation of future anti-Obama ads that would need to be rebutted and noted that McCain himself, a well-known campaign-finance reformer, was still taking money from lobbyists and PACs.

For the five days after Obama’s announcement (June 19-23), Dow Jones Insight identified 1,118 press documents mentioning Obama and/or McCain in proximity to terms related to campaign finance, and the automated favorability-analysis feature found 538 of these documents to contain either favorable or unfavorable language dominating in reference to the candidate and issue.

Looking only at this non-neutral coverage, we found that Obama was discussed unfavorably on the topic of fundraising in 249 separate articles, or 86% of his total non-neutral coverage, while just 42 articles, or 14%, discussed Obama and financing using favorable language. But McCain fared worse, as 222 articles, or 90% of his non-neutral coverage, was unfavorable, and just 25 documents, or 10%, were favorable.

Methodology: Favorability analysis is of English-language documents only and was generated by software-based analysis which has been shown to be 80% accurate in similar corpora. Favorable and unfavorable ratings are assigned based on the words found in close proximity to a candidate's name. All neutral documents were excluded. The remaining 538 documents are those with discernible favorability. The source set excludes social media and press releases and includes global English-language newspapers, magazines, broadcast transcripts and newswires.

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