The Master Character Narratives in Campaign 2012
About This Study
A number of people at the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism worked on PEJ's "The Master Character Narratives in Campaign 2012." Director Tom Rosenstiel and Associate Director Mark Jurkowitz wrote the report. Senior Researcher Paul Hitlin supervised the content analysis component. Researchers Steve Adams, Heather Brown, Emily Guskin and Sovini Tan coded and analyzed the content data. Monica Anderson created the charts. Jesse Holcomb copy edited the report. Dana Page handles the communications for the project.
The report issued by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, "The Master Character Narratives in Campaign 2012," uses content analysis data derived from human coding.
The content was based on media coverage originally captured as part of PEJ's weekly News Coverage Index (NCI) from May 29-August 5, 2012.
Each week, the NCI examines the coverage from 52 outlets in five media sectors, including newspapers, online news, network TV, cable TV, and radio. Following a system of rotation, between 25 and 28 outlets each weekday are studied as well as 3 newspapers each Sunday.
For this particular study of campaign coverage, ABC and CBS radio headlines were excluded. Therefore, the 50 media outlets examined for this campaign study were as follows:
Newspapers (Eleven in all)
Coded two out of these four every weekday; one on Sunday
Web sites (Coded six of twelve each weekday)
Network TV (Seven in all, Mon-Fri)
Morning shows - coded one or two every weekday
Evening news - coded two of three every weekday
Coded two consecutive days, then skip one
Cable TV (Fifteen in all, Mon-Fri)
Daytime (2:00 to 2:30 pm) coded two out of three every weekday
Nighttime CNN - coded one or two out of the four every day
Situation Room (5 pm)
Nighttime Fox News - coded two out of the four every day
Nighttime MSNBC - coded one or two out of the four every day
Radio (Seven in all, Mon-Fri)
NPR - Coded one of the two every weekday
All Things Considered
Coded every other day
From that content, the study included all campaign-related stories:
Click here for the full methodology regarding the News Coverage Index and the justification for the choices of outlets studied.
To arrive at the sample for this particular study of campaign coverage, we began by pulling all the stories from May 29-August 5, 2012, that were either coded as campaign stories, meaning that 50% or more of the story was devoted to discussion of the ongoing presidential campaign, or included President Obama or Governor Romney in at least 25% of the story.
For all stories, further sampling was conducted by selecting every other relevant story by outlet. This was done by listing the stories from each show in chronological order and randomly selecting the first story. We then selected every-other story within each outlet to arrive at the final sample.
This process resulted in a sample of 827 stories.
A coding protocol was designed for this project based on previous studies by PEJ.
For each of the two major party presidential candidates (Barack Obama, Mitt Romney), researchers examined campaign coverage to identify the ten most common themes about the character and record of each candidate. Five of the themes for each candidate were positive and five negative. (For Obama, two themes about his economic policy were eventually merged.) Researchers then identified each assertion within every story reflecting any of these themes in the sample.
Coding Team & Process
The team responsible for performing the content analysis on this particular study was made up of four experienced coders and a senior researcher.
Testing of all variables used to determine campaign stories has shown levels of agreement of agreement of 80% or higher. For specific information about those tests, see the methodology on intercoder testing.
During coder training for this particular study, intercoder reliability tests were conducted for all the campaign-specific variables. There were two different intercoder tests conducted to assure reliability.
The first test was to assure that coders could identify the assertions within campaign stories. Each coder was given the same group of stories and asked to identify where threads appeared in those stories. The agreement between all the coders on this task was 80%.
The second test consisted of each coder being given a list of assertions and asked to code each of the campaign specific variables for those threads.
From that test, the specific levels of agreement for the variables in this study were as follows:
The results of PEJ's coding were twinned with a companion survey of public attitudes about the candidates by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The survey of registered voters was conducted on August 16-19, 2012. Together, the two studies allowed us to explore how much these press messages were shaping public opinion of the candidates.
The Master Character Narratives in Campaign 2012