Winning the Media Campaign: How the Press Reported the 2008 General Election

Oct 22, 2008

The media coverage of the race for president has not so much cast Barack Obama in a favorable light as it has portrayed John McCain in a substantially negative one, according to a new Pew Research Center study of the media since the two national political conventions ended.

Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so.

But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one—the most unfavorable of all four candidates—according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

For Obama during this period, just over a third of the stories were clearly positive in tone (36%), while a similar number (35%) were neutral or mixed. A smaller number (29%) were negative.

For McCain, by comparison, nearly six in ten of the stories studied were decidedly negative in nature (57%), while fewer than two in ten (14%) were positive.

McCain did succeed in erasing one advantage Obama enjoyed earlier in the campaign—the level of media exposure each candidate received. Since the end of August, the two rivals have been in a virtual dead heat in the amount of attention paid, and when vice presidential candidates are added to the mix the Republican ticket has the edge. This is a striking contrast to the pre-convention period, when Obama enjoyed nearly 50% more coverage.

Read the full report Winning the Media Campaign on the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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