PEJ News Coverage Index: September 13-19, 2010. O'Donnell's Delaware Stunner Drives Election Coverage

  • September 21, 2010

The surprise victory of a tea party-backed candidate in Delaware's Republican Senate primary fueled the biggest week yet for coverage of the 2010 midterm elections.

Christine O'Donnell's September 14 upset over nine-term Congressman Mike Castle pushed the midterm elections to the top of the news agenda, where it filled 30% of the newshole during the week of September 13-19, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. The previous high water mark for midterm elections was 18% the week of May 17-23, when incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter was defeated in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

Last week, the midterms were the top story in all five of the media sectors studied by PEJ and completely dominated the ideological radio and cable talk shows, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the airtime examined. O'Donnell herself generated so much attention that she proved to be the week's leading newsmaker, figuring prominently in almost twice as many stories as President Obama.

In the wake of O'Donnell's victory, the media narrative last week focused on several themes—the strength of the tea party movement, the possibility that Democrats might now hold an endangered Delaware Senate seat and growing fault lines between the GOP establishment and tea party insurgents.

The U.S. economy (No. 2 story) accounted for 16% of the newshole last week, about half the coverage devoted to the midterms. A subject that has lately been driven by grim indicators of economic health instead focused last week on tax policy, most notably a debate over whether to extend Bush Administration tax cuts.

Read the full report, O'Donnell's Delaware Stunner Drives Election Coverage on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.