22 October 2008

The Issues-Coverage Pendulum Continues to Swing Back Toward Obama

By Dow Jones Insight Staff

With recent polls showing a widening lead for Barack Obama with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, the Democratic candidate continues to generate more coverage in the press and social media on key election issues, a trend he began several weeks back after briefly ceding the lead to McCain in the post-Palin coverage storm.

In the most recent rolling-30-day period from September 19 through October 19, Obama achieved an overall coverage advantage on 13 issues, compared with the 10 he dominated in our previous analysis covering September 12 through October 12, according to analysis of 20,000 mainstream media and 2 million social media sources by Dow Jones Insight. Of those, Obama now has a commanding lead (one greater than 15 points) on seven, including the bailout, faith, terrorism, jobs, abortion, Israel and fuel prices.

John McCain had a leading share on just four issues in the latest analysis, down from nine last time around, and he did not have a commanding lead on any issue. This shift reflects, in part, the declining share of overall election media coverage for McCain. The number of issues in which the coverage advantage was too close to call, or those with a difference of less than six percentage points between the two candidates, totaled nine, compared with seven last time.

In our previous analysis, Obama had the lead on 10 issues. In the ensuing seven days, he’s added four and lost one, resulting in 13 total. The issues he added were: terrorism, jobs and Israel, which were all formerly ties, and fuel prices, which had been McCain’s. In our last analysis, McCain had the lead in nine issues. Over the next seven days, he’s added one and lost six, resulting in four total issues for the most recent period. He added North Korea, which had been too close to call, and lost health care, Iran, energy, environment, and stem cell research, all of which are now ties. Fuel prices, meanwhile, went from McCain to Obama.

For the period September 19 through October 19, there were a total of 1,609,083 mentions of the candidates in proximity to one or more of the 26 issues in all tracked sources. That represented an increase of 15% over the 1,395,917 issues-related mentions in the previous rolling 30-day period. While the volume of issues-related coverage was up significantly, there was little change in the relative coverage of the issues themselves, as no issue went up or down more than one spot in the rankings. What changed, obviously, was which candidate was the focus of that coverage.

Of the issues-oriented mentions, 47% were related to the economic crisis, the same ratio as in our last analysis, while 23% were related to the candidates themselves (fundraising, faith and race), up one percentage point from the previous analysis. Non-economic domestic issues (e.g., education) remained at 17% and issues related to the wars and the Middle East dropped one percentage point to 14%.

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 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.

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