09 October 2008

McCain’s Hold on the ‘Issue-Lead’ Fades Quickly

By Glenn Fannick
Dow Jones Insight Staff

The early part of the post-primary race was all Obama. He dominated media coverage no matter how the data were sliced. Then McCain made a move in late summer, and for a few weeks in September McCain was commanding more attention across the social and mainstream media landscape on an issue-by-issue basis. But that lead proved tenuous, as this week’s analysis by Dow Jones Insight shows media coverage of half of the issues is now split evenly.

Last week McCain had turned the board nearly all red as the press and bloggers were mentioning his name in close proximity to the major issues more often than they were Obama’s. But this week we see a much grayer view. The top issues on which McCain is still getting more ink (and pixels) are the economy, health care, energy, the environment and the housing slump. And Obama is still holding onto fundraising (which is not an issue a candidate necessarily wants press on) and has taken back education. But other key issues – the financial bailout (a newly added issue for this analysis), taxes, terrorism, Iraq, Israel and immigration – are even.

As to which issue is the most discussed overall, there is little surprise that the economy is still on top this week and its sister issues (the bailout, taxes and jobs) are all in the top 10. For much of the campaign we lamented the volume of press given to what some might call the non-policy issues of the candidates’ races, the pastors they associate with, their faiths and how much money they’ve raised. It seems it took a major financial crisis to sharpen the focus.

In the most recent 30-day snapshot (the previous snapshot was sampled seven days ago) the issues that have gained ground are the financial bailout, jobs, Afghanistan and Iran, while those that fell the most in the rankings were abortion (which had jumped after Palin was announced) and the environment.

As the election nears, coverage volume continues to rise. One of the candidate’s names occurred along with one or more of the 26 tracked issues 1.4 million times in the past 30 days in the nearly 20,000 mainstream media and 2 million social media sources analyzed. Of that, a full 44% were related to the economic state of affairs the nation finds itself in. As for the rest, 23% were related to the candidates directly (fundraising, faith and race), 18% to non-economic domestic issues (e.g., education), and 14% were related to the wars and the Middle East.

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.

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