May 17, 2012

This Time Around, Less News from the Campaign

2008 2012
January 44 42
February 44 25
March 37 19
April 32 20
May 39 19

33% – Drop in amount of presidential election coverage from 2008 to 2012

There are many differences between the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, including the fact there were two nomination fights for an open Oval Office job in 2008 while this year has an incumbent running for re-election. Another difference is the amount of coverage devoted to the two campaigns during the primary season.

From Jan. 1-May 15, 2012, about one quarter (26%) of the newshole was devoted to the presidential contest. That put it well ahead of the No. 2 story, the economy, at 8%.  But in the same period four years earlier, the campaign accounted for a full 39% of the newshole, even further ahead of the economy (7%), the No. 2 story at that point in 2008.

Election news got off to big start in 2012, fueled by key Republican contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. The campaign accounted for 42% of the newshole in January 2012, which is very similar to the coverage in January 2008, when 44% of the newshole was devoted to the presidential race. 

From that point on, however, the amount of coverage diverged markedly. In February 2008, the presidential race remained dominant, again at 44% of the newshole. In February 2012, however, coverage dropped significantly, to 25%.

March revealed a similar trend, with 2008 election coverage (37%) nearly double that of March 2012 (19%). The gap narrowed somewhat in April-32% in 2008 versus 20% in 2012-but coverage was still substantially larger four years ago.   

The same basic pattern has been true for the first two weeks of May, when 2012 campaign coverage accounted for 19% of the newshole-less than half of what it was in 2008 (39%).

One likely reason for the drop in coverage from 2008 to 2012 is that four years ago, there were two hard-fought nomination battles. And while Republican John McCain clinched his victory in early March, the Democratic contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was highly competitive well into May. That race also generated significant coverage because of its historic nature-creating the possibility that the nation would elect either its first female or African-American president.

In 2012, while presumptive nominee Romney had to stave off a series of rotating challengers, a PEJ report on primary season coverage shows that after Romney’s narrow win in the February 28 Michigan primary, a significant portion of the media coverage began to focus on his inevitability as the nominee.

Monica Anderson of PEJ