October 31, 2000

The Last Lap

Character Issues

Even before the two major party candidates had been determined, the 2000 presidential election was referred to as one that rested on character and record. But, in the final month of the campaign, only 13% of the major themes were about character (7% about Bush's character and 6% about Gore's). Television, in particular tended to avoid this issue. Only 8% of all the character stories appeared in television, compared with 20% of coverage as a whole.

The most noteworthy elements of these two themes were how each tended to be framed. The bulk of both Bush and Gore character stories focused on internal politics (36% each) and straight news (30% Gore and 26% Bush) tended much more than the average story to be framed around the candidate's fitness for office (24% Bush, 30% Gore and 6% overall). But 12% of stories on Bush's character examined policy, while not a single Gore story carried this focus.

It appears that Gore did have some success in raising questions about Bush's record in Texas after the second debate. The vast majority (75%) of stories about Bush's character and record fell in weeks two and three. Stories on Gore's record and character, on the other hand, dropped off in the final week studied.