February 25, 2011

When State Issues Attract National Press

State Policies
WI Union Fight 16.3
AZ Immigration Law 15.8
CA Budget Problems 5.3
CA Gay Marriage Ban Unconsititutional 5.1
CA Gay Marriage Ban Upheld 4.7

No. 1 – Rank of the Wisconsin union fight among biggest state policy stories

The large protests in Wisconsin last week—organized in response to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut union benefits and bargaining power—generated major media attention. With potential implications for unions and electoral politics around the country, the protest story accounted for 16.3% of the overall newshole the week of February 14-20, 2010, according to PEJ News Coverage Index.

That level of coverage makes it the biggest state policy story in a single week since PEJ began regularly tracking media coverage in January 2007.

The only other story focusing on state policy and legislation that generated the same level of coverage occurred from April 26-May 2, 2010. That week, reaction to and debate over the tough immigration law just passed in Arizona accounted for 15.8% of the newshole. That law is still on hold as a federal circuit court decides its legality.

Other state battles over public policy that have generated national media attention include budget problems and same-sex marriage. And California, the nation’s most populous state, has been ground zero for that coverage.

In February 2009, California faced major budget shortfalls. After much infighting between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature, the state laid off 20,000 workers, raised taxes, and significantly cut the budget. Attention to that situation accounted for 5.3% of the newshole the week of February 16-22, 2009.

California’s same-sex marriage debate has also made headlines. Two weeks that attracted significant coverage were May 25-31, 2009 (4.7% of the newshole) when the California Supreme Court upheld a prohibition against gay marriage, and August 2-8, 2010 (5.1%) when a federal judge in California ruled that ban unconstitutional. That ruling is still on hold pending appeal.