Campaign Coverage 2012: It’s All About the Horse Race, Baby

Pew Research has some great news for those of you who loathe mainstream media campaign coverage. In their study of how the press reported on the 2012 presidential campaign, they say that Obama’s media coverage turned around dramatically during the final week of the campaign, moving from a net 13 points negative to a net 10 points positive. It must have been Hurricane Sandy, right? Guess again:

Much of that surge in positive coverage, the data suggest, was tied to Obama’s strategic position, including improving opinion polls and electoral math, rather than directly to positive assessments of Obama’s response to Superstorm Sandy.

….When it came to mainstream news coverage, a leading cause of Obama’s more upbeat narrative in the last week was that the horse-race coverage about his campaign-stories focused on strategy, polls and the question of who is winning-became more positive: 37% were clearly favorable in tone while 16% were unfavorable. That is considerably more upbeat than it had been for most of the final two months of the campaign….During the final week, 46% of all press coverage of the campaign focused on horse-race and strategy stories, larger than the 39% that was devoted to such issues throughout the entire race.

So there you have it. In the final week, the press finally figured out that Obama was leading in the polls, and the press always writes more glowingly of winners than losers. Yay press corps!

In other news, Pew also charted the coverage of Romney and Obama on Fox News and MSNBC. Their conclusion: both networks had favorites, but “in the final week of the campaign, both Fox News and MSNBC became even more extreme in how they differed from the rest of the press in coverage of the two candidates.” Italics mine. Which network was the most extreme, though? Anyone who thinks that MSNBC hasn’t yet become fully Foxified might be surprised at the answer, but Pew found that in the final week MSNBC aired precisely zero stories that were either positive about Romney or negative about Obama. Welcome to the 21st century news bubble.