28 October 2008

Issues Coverage Hits a Plateau but Obama’s Share of it Does Not

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

With a week to go until Election Day, the volume of mainstream and social media coverage of the two candidates on key election issues has leveled off considerably from the sharp increases we’d seen in our past several analyses, but Barack Obama again widened his lead in terms of the number of issues on which he received higher coverage than John McCain.

In our latest analysis, covering the period September 26 through October 26, Obama achieved an overall coverage advantage on 14 of the 26 issues tracked, while McCain led on just one issue and 11 were categorized as ties, or as having a difference of fewer than six percentage points between the two candidates, according to analysis of 20,000 mainstream media and 2 million social media sources by Dow Jones Insight. Obama’s 14 issues were one more than the 13 he “owned” in our previous analysis covering the 30-day period from September 19 through October 19. McCain’s total represented a decline of three issues from the four on which he had led last time around. Worse yet, two snapshots ago McCain led on nine and a month ago he led on 19, so the downward trend has been quite pronounced; since we created the Issues Tracker in July, McCain had never led on fewer than three issues, even when Obama was on his swing through the Middle East and Europe. The 11 ties in the latest analysis were two more than the previous period’s nine.

Of the individual issues that changed hands, Obama added taxes and immigration to his side of the ledger, both of which had previously been too close to call, while Israel moved from the Obama side to a tie, resulting in the net gain of one issue for the Democrat. McCain led on just North Korea this time, giving up his former coverage advantages on the economy, the housing slump and Social Security, all three of which are now ties.

In terms of total issues-related volume, for the period September 26 through October 26 there were 1,666,011 mentions of the candidates in proximity to one or more of the 26 issues in all tracked sources. That represented an increase of 3.5% over the 1,609,083 issues-related mentions in the previous rolling 30-day period. The volume of issues-oriented coverage has leveled off after significant rises in several of our previous analyses, and the movement of issues up and down in the rankings was also minimal. The only move of more than one spot was bailout, which fell from second place to fourth, not so much because the economic crisis is being discussed less but because it has taken on new forms beyond the original bailout bill voted down by, and then passed by, Congress. But even with the small changes in total volume and relative importance of the issues, the Obama campaign clearly managed to steer the focus further from McCain and toward its candidate.

When we group the issues by type, we again see modest changes. Discussion of the various issues related to the economic crisis made up 46% of the total this time around, down a point from 47% in our last analysis, while the percentage of talk regarding non-economic domestic issues, like education and same-sex marriage, also dipped a bit, to 16% from 17%. On the rise, if only slightly, was the group of candidate-specific issues (such as faith and race), which accounted for 24% of the discussion, up from 23%, while issues related to the wars and the Middle East stayed level at 13% of the total.

Methodology: This analysis looks at 26 selected issues that occurred within 50 words of at least one of the candidates’ names during the period of September 26 to October 26, 2008. To demonstrate change in “ownership” of issues, these data were compared with the period of September 19 to October 19. 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 20,000 English-language mainstream media print and Web sources, more than 60,000 English-language message boards and 2 million blogs.

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