30 September 2008

Bailout-Related Language Dominates List of Newly Identified Phrases in Election Media Coverage, but Debate Also Makes a Splash

Dow Jones Insight Staff

Not surprisingly, turmoil in the U.S. financial markets was the subject of much of the candidates’ media coverage in the past week, and this dominance revealed itself in the list of terms and phrases newly identified by Dow Jones Insight as having appeared frequently in association with the two candidates. Terms associated with the first presidential debate – some related to the crisis, some not – also made the list.

The financial coverage appeared both directly, as in discussions of the proposed industry bailout and the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and indirectly, as when John McCain skipped an appearance on David Letterman in favor of one with Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News.

In mainstream media sources (press and Web) during the period September 22-29, “Wall Street” was mentioned in proximity to McCain’s name 5,807 times and near Obama’s name 4,930 times. The phrase “economic crisis” occurred 2,303 times near McCain and 1,517 times near Obama, while “bailout plan” was discussed 1,839 times in proximity to McCain and 1,319 to Obama. “Congressional leaders,” who were involved in formulating the plan, turned up 2,224 times in conjunction with McCain and 2,068 with Obama.

In social media sources (blogs and boards) many of the same terms were identified, but there were additional terms unique to the social media list. For example, citizen journalists focused more on the two candidates’ controversial connections to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac than the mainstream press did in terms of the rankings, as both phrases landed near the top of the social media lists. These sites mentioned “Fannie Mae” or “Fannie” 2,299 times near McCain and 1,921 times near Obama, and “Freddie Mac” 2,040 times near McCain and 906 times near Obama. Variations on Katie Couric’s and David Letterman’s names also made the top 10 for McCain, with the discussion of McCain’s non-appearance driving the Letterman coverage (855 mentions) while Couric’s (1,088 of “Couric” and 992 of “Katie Couric”) involved both the Letterman issue as well as coverage of Couric’s interview of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Of the terminology related to the debates, “presidential debate” appeared in the top 10 for both candidates in both media types – 4,542 for Obama in mainstream sources, 2,045 in blogs and boards; and 5,415 for McCain in mainstream sources and 2,045 in blogs and boards. Afghanistan also appeared on both lists for both candidates; in mainstream press it was mentioned 1,106 times near McCain and 995 times near Obama, while in social media it received 854 mentions with McCain and 705 with Obama. Oxford, the Mississippi city in which the debate was held, made the two mainstream press lists.

Methodology: “Discovered” terms include commonly identified phrases not already tracked as subjects in the Dow Jones Insight presidential election platform. Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

McCain, Obama Back on Top as Candidates Address Economy and Debate Takes Place as Scheduled; Palin Falls, Biden Stays Low

Dow Jones Insight Staff

As we reported in our previous analysis, by September 13 Sarah Palin’s coverage lead over the other three nominees was shrinking but still significant. In our latest trend analysis of mainstream and social media sources tracked by Dow Jones Insight, covering the period August 27 through September 27, that downward trend has for the most part continued while coverage of the two presidential candidates has risen.

As the week of September 15 unfolded – with Lehman Brothers declaring bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch being taken over by Bank of America, and panic over the financial markets escalating – the two presidential nominees ultimately re-emerged as the coverage leaders as they attempted to help lead the country out of crisis. Meanwhile, Palin’s coverage remained flat for most of that week but then resumed its overall downward trajectory as the McCain team reportedly moved to limit media access. Coverage of Democratic rival Joe Biden continued to register barely a blip.

The two presidential candidates’ coverage continued to increase the following week, in particular after the 24th when McCain announced plans to suspend his campaign, skip the debate, return to Washington and focus on helping solve the financial crisis. It rose further on the 25th as the Obama team accused McCain of grandstanding, and again on the 26th, as the debate was eventually held.

Most notably, toward the end of the tracked period Palin’s coverage appeared to be dropping to levels approaching that of Biden. The coverage peak she received on September 12, the day after her interview by ABC’s Charlie Gibson, gave way to a fairly steady decline. (Note that all candidates received lower coverage on September 6-7, 13-14, and 20-21, all of which were weekends.) Her interview with Katie Couric, broadcast on the 24th and 25th and considered by some to have been a poor showing by Palin, generated a barely perceptible bump in coverage. Biden, meanwhile, saw only the tiniest of coverage increases on the 23rd in the wake of his erroneous statements regarding the Great Depression and President Roosevelt. So whether by the design of their respective campaigns or by the happenstance of the worst economic crisis in decades, the media’s spotlight appears to be shining not all that brightly on the two candidates for vice president.

Methodology: Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

Vice Presidential Candidates Not Filling the Gaps

Dow Jones Insight Staff

In choosing their running mates, both Obama and McCain were viewed as having selected candidates who could compensate for their own areas of actual or perceived weakness – in Obama’s case the issue of experience especially as it relates to foreign policy, and in McCain’s case, his lack of appeal to the party’s conservative base as well as his age. Based on analysis of mainstream media sources tracked by Dow Jones Insight, they may not be getting quite what they expected.

During the period September 18-25*, Joe Biden’s name was mentioned 470 times in connection with the issue of experience, representing 14% of his 3,466 total mentions on the 10 issues being considered. Obama, meanwhile, received 999 mentions, or 6% of his total 17,044 mentions on the 10 issues. So while Biden received fewer mentions on the topic due to his lower coverage overall, the issue of “experience” represented a significant portion of his overall coverage, indicating that this message is coming across well.

Another area in which Biden’s share exceeded Obama’s during the period was the issue of taxes, though this outcome may be have been more inadvertent than by design. Biden received 986 mentions in conjunction with taxes, or 28% of his total, while Obama received 2,316 mentions on taxes, or 14% of his total mentions. The primary driver for Biden’s coverage was his statement that it would be patriotic for wealthy Americans to pay higher taxes – a statement the Republicans immediately attacked and that served as a distraction from the foreign policy expertise that Biden’s presence on the ticket was expected to fill.

Looking at some key foreign policy issues – specifically Iraq, Iran and terrorism – Biden only had a higher proportion of coverage than Obama on Iraq, with 164 mentions, or 5%, compared to Obama’s 437, or 3%. On Iran, Biden had 103 mentions, or 3%, compared to Obama’s 644, or 4%, while on terrorism, Biden received 172 mentions, or 5%, and Obama received 883 mentions, also 5%.

On the Republican side, Palin received higher percentages of coverage than her running mate on a number of issues unrelated to the reasons she was selected. Aside from the economy, which was the top issue for both McCain and Palin, her largest percentage of coverage on the 10 issues came on the topic of experience, for which she received 1,455 mentions, or 20% of her 7,302 total mentions on the issues considered. McCain received 1,513 mentions, or 8% of a total 18,857 mentions on the tracked issues. Given her short tenure as governor, discussions of Palin and experience are clearly not a positive development for the McCain team.

Palin also exceeded McCain on Iran, Iraq and terrorism, topics on which her knowledge is being challenged. She received 726 mentions, or 10%, on Iran compared to McCain’s 751 mentions, or 4%; 190 mentions on Iraq, or 2.6%, compared to McCain’s 410, or 2.2%; and 586 mentions, or 8%, on terrorism compared to McCain’s 1,206, or 6%.

On the issue of energy, an expected Palin strength, the vice presidential candidate received 249 mentions, or 3%, which McCain also exceeded, netting 883 mentions, or 5%.

*The analyzed period begins a few days after the start of the current crisis in the financial markets (September 15) and ends prior to the first presidential debate (September 26). We opted to omit those periods as they would have skewed coverage toward the economy and foreign policy.

Methodology: Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. The 10 issues chosen were selected as most closely aligned with the areas of weakness the candidates needed to fill.

Economy Moves to Top Spot Among Tracked Issues as Overall Issues Coverage Surges

Dow Jones Insight Staff

It was a busy month in terms of media coverage of key election issues, as total issues-oriented mentions rose 21% to 1,377,984, compared to 1,137,582 mentions in the previous rolling month, which itself had represented a 22% jump from the preceding rolling timeframe.

The economy, as expected, was the most covered issue in the latest rolling one-month period tracked by Dow Jones Insight, moving up two spots from the previous period. A related issue on the housing slump also advanced, rising three slots to 19 from 22.
Among the issues changing hands were education and jobs, both of which went from being too close to call to going to McCain’s side of the ledger. Obama took back the issue of fundraising, which he’d lost to a tie last time around, but he lost both faith and Israel, now too close to call.

In total, Obama leads on four issues and McCain on 19, while two are currently too close to call.

16 September 2008

And the Winner Is… Palin?

Dow Jones Insight Staff

In the coverage race at least, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin continues to hold the lead, according to analysis of mainstream and social media sources tracked by Dow Jones Insight.

While she had virtually zero coverage in the days prior to her August 29th unveiling as the GOP vice presidential nominee, in the period from August 30 through September 13 she led her own running mate, John McCain, on all but two days – though his coverage totals clearly received a boost from her too – while her coverage exceeded that of Democratic nominee Barack Obama on all days in the period and left vice presidential rival Joe Biden far behind.

Palin ceded the coverage lead to McCain on August 31, the day before the Republican convention was scheduled to begin, while McCain defended the decision to pick Palin, as well as on September 11, the seventh anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.

The coverage gap between Palin and the other candidates was at its widest on September 4, the final night of the Republican convention. It has shrunk somewhat since then as coverage of all four candidates eased heading into the weekend, but remained a significant edge.

When considering the two presidential candidates only during the same time period (August 30-September 13), McCain had 179,004 total mentions in all tracked media sources, or a 55% share, to Obama’s 148,000 mentions, or 45% share.

McCain also led in terms of headline mentions in mainstream press, with 21,995 mentions, or 54%, to Obama’s 18,769, or 46%, while in social media sources (blogs and boards) Obama had 33,120 headline mentions to McCain’s 32,900, for a 50-50 split.

Methodology: All charts and figures above reflect mentions of the candidates in both mainstream and social media sources. Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

Palin May Have Stolen the Show in Minnesota, but Obama Still Pulled in Higher Convention Coverage

Dow Jones Insight Staff

While the selection of Palin has shifted the spotlight toward the Republicans over the past few weeks, when we analyze mainstream media coverage of both candidates around the time of their respective conventions, Obama still comes out ahead.

We looked at the four scheduled days of each convention plus the preview day before and the wrap-up day afterward – or August 24-29 for the Democrats and August 31-September 5 for the Republicans. The Democratic convention time period saw 91,395 total mentions of both candidates, 14% more coverage than the 80,250 total mentions in the days surrounding the hurricane-shortened Republican convention.

While the higher overall total is understandable given that the Democratic convention was a four-day event compared with three days for the GOP, Obama had a more dominant share of the conversation during his convention than McCain had during his. Specifically, Obama had 54,624 mentions, or a 60% share, around the time of the Democratic convention, compared to McCain’s 36,771 mentions, or 40%, at that time. In the days surrounding the Republican convention, McCain received 45,448 mentions, for a 57% share, compared to Obama’s 34,802 mentions, or 43%.

While each won their respective convention periods, Obama won his by a wider margin. Also, when combining mentions from both time periods, Obama received 52% of the total, compared to McCain’s 48%.

That Obama retained a lead is especially notable given that the day after the Democratic convention was the day McCain announced Palin as his running mate, which boosted McCain-related coverage during the Democratic convention time period. The timing of the Palin announcement was a clear effort to steal Obama’s thunder, but it couldn’t quite offset the coverage Obama received during the Democratic convention itself.

Methodology: Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites.

If Money Talks, Which Candidate Speaks Loudest?

Dow Jones Insight Staff

With Barack Obama’s announcement this week that he had raised a record $66 million in August and lined up more than 500,000 first-time donors, we looked at how the four candidates compared recently on the issue of fundraising.

Obama, by far the leader in donations from the public, also leads the way in terms of media coverage on the topic, though not by much. There were 1,740 mentions of his name in close proximity to fundraising-related terms in the previous seven days, or 36% of the total 4,826 fundraising mentions of the four candidates over that period. Because Obama declined to take public funds to finance his campaign on the assumption that he could raise far more on his own and spend it as he wished, fundraising events will continue to be a central activity for the Democratic nominee going forward. And with Obama as the far more galvanizing half of the ticket, his running mate, Joe Biden, has not played a very public fundraising role, netting just 279 mentions related to the issue, or 6% of the total.

On the Republican side, McCain, who has accepted public financing and is therefore limited in how much he can raise and how he can spend it, is expected to spend far less time drumming up donations, leaving much of that role to his running mate. Nonetheless, in the previous week McCain drew 1,665 mentions in reference to fundraising, or 35% of all fundraising mentions, as the media compared the state of McCain’s coffers with Obama’s. Palin, meanwhile, received 1,142 mentions on the issue, or 24%, as she took on a major fundraising role for the McCain campaign, with the goal of appealing to the conservative base and enabling McCain to focus on the issues.

Methodology: All charts and figures above reflect mentions of the candidates in both mainstream and social media sources. Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

Higher Overall Coverage for McCain Translates to Wins on Additional Issues

Dow Jones Insight Staff

Media coverage of the campaign issues being tracked by Dow Jones Insight surged again in the most recent rolling 30-day period, as the trend in issues ownership toward “red” reflected the overall increase in McCain-related coverage.

In the period August 15 – September 15, McCain had a note-worthy edge (for our purposes, six percentage points or greater) in 17 of the 25 issues being tracked, up from six in our previous analysis. Among the issues he added were the economy, taxes, terrorism, health care and abortion (each with a split of 54% for McCain to 46% for Obama), as well as energy (59% to 41%) and the environment (56% to 44%). Obama owned just five issues, down from seven last time out, and added no new issues. Still on the Obama side of the issues ledger were faith, race, Israel, gun control and Nafta. The two on which he lost the lead were health care, which went to McCain, and fundraising, which was too close to call (note that the parameters of this analysis differ from the fundraising discussion above in both time period and number of candidates considered).

Education moved up five spots from our last analysis, though the split between candidates was fairly even. Both had made education a key element of their acceptance speeches and recent stump speeches, and both had controversies arise over sex education, or at least claims by the other side about their record on sex education. The issue of terrorism also rose three places, reflecting numerous convention speeches as well as the seventh anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. Energy and fuel prices fell back in the rankings, to ninth and 16th positions from fifth and 11th, respectively, as gas prices at the pump eased a bit from their July highs (before spiking briefly near the end of the tracked period due to Hurricane Ike); both issues went from being too close to call last time around to being dominated by McCain.

Total issues-based coverage was up 22% in the latest timeframe, reaching 1,137,582 mentions of all 25 issues compared with 934,408.

Methodology: This analysis looks at 25 selected issues that occurred within 50 words of at least one of the candidates’ names during the period of August 15 to September 15, 2008. To demonstrate change in “ownership” of issues, these data were compared with the period of August 1 to September 1. We opted to take a 30-day snapshot approximately every two weeks to flatten out any spikes in data that could be attributed to a single-day anomaly in the data. The data come from approximately 19,000 English-language mainstream media print and Web sources, more than 60,000 English-language message boards and 2 million blogs.

04 September 2008

McCain’s Surprise VP Selection Gets the Media Talking, Especially Bloggers

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

In what is being called the biggest surprise of the campaign thus far, Republican soon-to-be nominee John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate on Friday, August 29, just hours after the end of the four-day hooplah that was the Democratic National Convention. The Palin announcement generated quite a stir in mainstream media and, even more so, on the blogs and boards, and succeeded in taking the spotlight back from the Democrats. (We will compare coverage of the two conventions in a future analysis, after the close of the Republican convention.)
Palin received 7,989 mentions in mainstream sources on the day of the announcement, as the press scrambled to produce background on the largely unknown governor and puzzled out the reasons for and implications of her selection. That figure was 17% higher than the number of mentions received by Joe Biden (6,854) on August 23, the day he was named, somewhat expectedly, as Obama’s running mate. In social media, the difference was even greater, with Palin receiving 13,822 mentions on August 29, 65% higher than the 8,384 Biden mentions on the day he was announced.
Palin’s numbers are all the more notable given the general lack of coverage she’s received from the media in the past. The number of mainstream mentions she received on the day of the announcement was more than four times the total she’d received for all of 2008 (1,720 mentions from January 1 through August 27), and her social media mentions that day were more than 11 times her year-to-date total of 1,142.

Interestingly, the total for Palin in social media rose even further the day after the announcement, to 15,022 mentions on August 30, while Biden’s fell the day after his announcement, to 5,823. In mainstream media, for both candidates the number of mentions fell the day after the candidate was announced.

Methodology: Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

The VPs Are Generating Talk, But What About? Experience, and Lack Thereof

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

Given her brief 20 months in office as Alaska governor and previous role as small-town mayor, the primary topic of discussion regarding Palin has thus far been experience, or her perceived lack thereof, especially as it compares to Obama’s and Biden’s. But her stances on abortion and her close association with the Christian faith have also been among the first and best-known bits of her background to emerge.

Of Palin’s total 46,462 mentions from August 27 to September 3 that involved one of the issues tracked by Dow Jones Insight, some 13,118, or 28%, were in relation to the term “experience,” as Democrats derided Palin’s lack of it, Republicans defended her record and pundits said the Republicans may have undermined one of their key arguments against Obama.

On the issue of abortion, Palin received 7,540 mentions, or 16% of her total issues-related mentions, while the issue of faith garnered 6,958 mentions, or 15%. Surprisingly, the topic of energy generated just 2,808 mentions in association with Palin, or 6%, despite her involvement with, and vocal opinions about, various key energy issues.

The biggest driver of Biden’s recent coverage has also been “experience,” as his presence on the ticket is seen to bring the experience that Obama lacks. For the period August 18 through September 1, Biden was mentioned in proximity to “experience” 11,115 times, or 31% of all Biden mentions on the tracked issues, which represents an even higher proportion of his overall total than Palin’s 28%. (Note: The date range for our Biden analysis goes back further than Palin’s because he received significant coverage as a likely running mate prior to being selected and was specifically seen as bringing experience and foreign-policy credentials to the Democratic ticket. Therefore, the total number of mentions on each topic is not comparable between candidates, though the shares for each issue, as a percentage of each candidate’s issues-related coverage, are comparable).

The theme of “change” also received strong coverage in regard to Biden as he joined the Democratic rallying cry for change while simultaneously his naming was considered by some to be out of step with the concept, in light of his more than three decades in Washington. Biden was mentioned 7,569 times in close proximity to the term “change,” or 21% of his total 36,136 issues-related mentions. Terrorism (1,505, or 4%), Iraq (1,275, or 4%) and Afghanistan (1,008, or 3%) also were among the top 10 issues for Biden during the tracked period, but given his role on the ticket, these figures were somewhat surprisingly low.

Methodology: The charts indicate coverage of both candidates on key issues in mainstream and social media in the time periods indicated. For Palin, we chose the most recent 7 days because she had little election-related coverage prior to being named McCain’s running mate on the 29th. For Biden, we include several days prior to his being named, as he was already being discussed as a likely running mate. Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

Surprise Vice President Selection Finally Puts McCain in the Coverage Lead

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

If the selection of Palin accomplishes nothing else, it did finally push McCain’s media coverage past Obama’s, something no other McCain media strategy had achieved.

During the Democratic convention held August 25-28, Obama had significantly widened his coverage lead in all media sources tracked by Dow Jones Insight, including mainstream and social media, peaking on the 28th and 29th with much talk about his acceptance speech. But McCain stole the show on the 29th with news of his vice presidential nominee, and held the lead for the next several days. We will check back in our next analysis to see if he can maintain the lead beyond the Republican convention.

Methodology: Mainstream press sources include more than 6,000 newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and TV transcripts and more than 13,000 current-awareness news Web sites. Social media sources include 2 million of the most influential blogs and more than 60,000 message boards.

McCain Regains Lead on Foreign-Policy Issues as Candidates’ Issues Coverage Rebounds

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

Media coverage of the issues being tracked by Dow Jones Insight surged in the latest rolling one-month period as a result of the two parties’ nominating conventions and vice presidential picks, but the increase seems to have helped McCain more, as he regained the lead on several foreign-policy issues that Obama had won with his trip to the Middle East and Europe earlier this summer, and drew closer on several other issues.
For the period August 1 – September 1, the 25 tracked issues were discussed a total of 934,408 times, up 29% from 724,799 in the previous rolling one-month span.
McCain took leading shares on Iraq (55%), Afghanistan (53%) and Iran (56%), which were led by Obama in our previous analysis, as well as on North Korea (55%), which had formerly been too close to call. He gained ground in terms of coverage on the economy, abortion, terrorism, education, immigration and the housing slump, all of which had been led by Obama in our last analysis and are now too close to call. The only issue on which McCain lost ground to Obama is same-sex marriage, which is now a statistical tie.
A few issues saw significant movement in the latest period. Abortion moved up from 17 to 6, reflecting several developments, including discussion of the topic by both candidates at a forum in August, controversy over Obama’s voting history in Illinois, statements of support in the Democratic party platform and in Obama’s acceptance speech at the convention, and discussions of Palin’s stance on abortion. Health care also rose significantly, to 8th place from 15th in our last analysis, helped largely by several Democratic convention speeches.