PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: September 1 - 7, 2008, The Palin Phenomenon Drives Campaign Coverage

  • September 09, 2008

For the first time in the three months since the general election campaign began, John McCain last week generated more coverage than Barack Obama. But he was still outshone by another newsmaker during the GOP convention—his own running mate.

Sarah Palin, the first woman on a Republican ticket, was the focus of feverish attention as the media tried to find out more about her, convey her record and biography, and calculate her impact on the race. For the week of Sept. 1-7, Palin was a significant or dominant factor in 60% of the campaign stories, according to the Campaign Coverage Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. McCain was fairly close behind, a significant or dominant factor in 52% of the stories.

Put another way, Palin enjoyed more coverage as a VP candidate during the GOP convention than Obama did a week earlier when he became the first person of color to accept the nomination for president of a major party. With the other ticket making most of the news, Obama was a focus in 22% of the stories last week, by far his lowest week of coverage in the general election season. His running mate Joe Biden registered at 2%.

The extent to which Palin commanded the spotlight last week is clear from the campaign storylines. Together, media narratives about McCain and the convention—including the proceedings themselves, Hurricane Gustav's impact, McCain's speech, and George Bush's role—accounted for 43% of the campaign newshole. Palin themes, including reaction to her selection, her public record, her personal and family life, and the question of sexism—accounted for 45%.

Read the full report The Palin Phenomenon Drives Campaign Coverage on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.