04 September 2008

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.

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