Contact: Tom Rosenstiel, Amy Mitchell or Mark Jurkowitz of PEJ at 202.419.3650
November 19, 2012 - In the final days of the 2012 presidential campaign, Barack Obama enjoyed his most positive run of news coverage in months, according to a new study  by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Only during the week of his nominating convention was the treatment in the press more favorable.
The report-which examined 660 news stories from 49 mainstream press outlets from October 22 through November 5-finds that positive stories about Obama (29%) outnumbered negative ones (19%) by 10 points in the week leading up to the voting.
The data suggest that Obama's surge in positive coverage was largely tied to his improving strategic position in the race. In the last week, 37% of the Obama campaign stories focused on the horserace were positive compared with 16% negative. That strategically focused coverage was considerably more favorable than it had been for most of the final two months of the campaign.
While the surge in positive coverage for the president was not directly tied to media reporting on Superstorm Sandy, the disaster did appear to reduce the amount of attention to Romney. In the last week of the campaign, Romney generated about 25% less coverage than his rival.
And within that smaller amount of coverage, the tone of Romney's coverage remained largely unchanged from the previous two weeks, at 33% negative and 16% positive.
"It is clear that things broke for Obama in the last week," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "The media tend to reinforce the phenomena they observe in the final days of the race. In this case, that included the president's performance in the storm, but even more so, the opinion polls that were moving his way."
In social media, the conversation about the candidates in those final days varied by platform. On Twitter, Romney had his best stretch of the general election in the final week; 32% of the conversation was positive compared with 45% negative. On blogs, it was Obama who had his best week studied; positive posts were roughly equal to negative (28% positive to 27% negative). The tenor of the Facebook conversation changed relatively little; the conversation about Obama stayed steady and Romney's declined a small amount.
These are among the findings from the report, a follow up to the Winning the Media Campaign  study released by PEJ on November 2. Researchers used content analysis to examine news stories from 49 mainstream news outlets. To study social media, researchers combined human coding efforts with technology from Crimson Hexagon. The study of the tone in news coverage is not an examination of media bias. Rather, it measures the overall impression the public is receiving in media about each candidate, whether the assertion is a quote from a source, facts presented in the narrative that are determined to be favorable or unfavorable, including poll results, or is part of a journalistic analysis.
Among the other findings:
The Project for Excellence in Journalism  tracks the transformation of journalism in a changing information landscape through its annual State of the News Media report and other special reports. As part of the nonpartisan, non-advocacy Pew Research Center,  it does not take positions on policy issues.