In a week that culminated with the introduction of Senator Joe Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate, the veepstakes dominated the campaign narrative, shunting other storylines—particularly policy differences—to the sidelines.
For the week of Aug. 18-24, speculation about Obama’s choice—which centered on Biden, Virginia Governor Tom Kaine and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh—accounted for 27% of all campaign news, according to the Campaign Coverage Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Reaction to the Biden selection, revealed on Aug. 23, accounted for another 9%. With John McCain expected to name his running mate on Aug. 29, that buzz—which focused largely on Mitt Romney—garnered another 5% of the coverage.
In all its incarnations, the veepstakes accounted for 42% of last week’s election coverage. No other storyline came close.
Thanks in part to the Biden announcement, Obama again generated significantly more coverage than McCain last week in the run up to the Democratic convention. Obama appeared as a significant or dominant factor in 78% of the campaign stories, compared with 56% for his GOP rival. Biden registered in another 13% of the coverage. And Hillary Clinton—who commands the loyalty of many Democratic delegates and whose convention performance will be intensely scrutinized—was a significant or dominant factor in 6%. In total, the percentage of campaign stories mostly about Democrats (45%) vastly outnumbered those about Republicans (18%).
The No. 2 storyline in last week’s coverage (at 11%) revolved around a McCain interview in which he did not know how many houses he owned. (The estimates have varied from between four and eight.) The Obama campaign seized on that comment to push the contention that McCain is out of touch with working-class America. That prompted a response from the McCain camp, in turn, attempting to link Obama’s home purchase to convicted Chicago developer Tony Rezko. But much of the media commentary suggested that McCain suffered the more serious damage in the exchange.
Campaign polls, which included further signs that the race might be tightening, were the No. 4 campaign story (at 8%).
All this was enough to push coverage of the policy debate to a minimal level. The top issue, the economy, accounted for only 3% of the coverage followed by Iraq, at 2%. Combined, the key issue differences between the candidates accounted for only 8% of the coverage in a week when the veepstakes, a flap over houses, and polls filled 61% of the newshole. By way of comparison, the debate over issues during the week of Aug. 11-17 consumed almost one-quarter of the campaign coverage.
Read the full report It’s All Veepstakes All the Time on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.