By: Greg Mitchell
Newspapers Beat Network News For Political Coverage
A new Editor & Publisher/TIPP national poll of 1,956 adults finds that a large number of Americans perceive press bias in election coverage this year. Revealing a dead-even race between Al Gore and George W. Bush among likely voters, the poll finds that almost four out of 10 believe that the newspaper they read the most “has favored one candidate over the other in their news coverage of the campaign.”
Political commentators often allege media bias, but this is the first national poll this year to examine voter opinion on this subject. Among voters who are considered regular readers of newspapers, 44% perceive bias in the news coverage.
And almost two-thirds of those who perceive bias feel that the candidate who has been “favored” is: Al Gore. Surprisingly, many Democrats, along with Republicans, feel this way.
Conservatives have long charged that the media is “liberal-oriented,” and indeed this belief is reflected in the new poll in the finding that fully half (53%) of all Bush supporters allege bias. And among Republicans who perceive bias, four out of five feel the press favors Gore.
To an extent, this may simply reflect a tendency to blame-the-messenger for Bush’s political slide since mid-summer. But it makes the returns on the Democratic side all the more intriguing.
Fewer Gore backers perceive bias, about three in 10, and 57% of Democrats who claim bias believe the press has favored Bush in their coverage. No surprise there. But a significant number of these Democrats (35%) acknowledge that it is Gore who has gotten more than an even break from the press.
Biased or not, press coverage continues to play a central role in the campaign. Among all likely voters, the poll finds that newspapers rank just behind cable TV news, and ahead of network TV news, as the key source of campaign coverage (cable news attracts 25%, newspapers 23%, network news 19%). The ascendency of cable TV news, over network TV news, is noteworthy, as well. Web sites were considered the key source of political news by only 5% of
all likely voters polled, ranking behind radio at 8% and local TV at
The E&P/TIPP poll was conducted Sept. 7-10 with a margin for error of plus or minus three percentage points. TIPP, based in Oradell, N.J., is a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence.
Even though the overall results point to a toss-up, with each candidate getting 42% of the vote in a four-way race (with Ralph Nader gaining 4% and Patrick Buchanan 1%), the poll finds that some specific factors bode well for Al Gore:
The poll finds that regular readers of newspapers are more likely to vote than occasional readers – and these regular readers favor Gore over Bush, 44% to 42%.
Regular readers believe their newspaper ultimately will endorse Gore over Bush (46% predicting Gore, 31% Bush). This runs counter to historical trends, as a majority of newspapers have usually backed the Republican candidate for President.
Nearly one in 10 voters (9%), the poll finds, are still undecided in this close race – and 24% of these swing voters say the are leaning to Gore, and only 10% to Bush. The poll finds that, compared to other likely voters, the undecided group includes more women, more Independents, and more moderates – they are truly “in the middle.”
Bush has one edge, however, in that 65% of Bush supporters say they support him strongly, while 60% of Gore backers feel the same way about their candidate.
The poll belies the view that the public has not yet become engaged in this year’s Presidential contest, finding about seven in 10 who say they are “very interested” in the race and another 20% who are “somewhat interested.”
The E&P/TIPP poll detects rather complex feelings about the press among the public. As we observed, a large number still rely on newspapers for coverage of the campaign, and newspaper readership remains high overall – with 61% reading newspapers five or more days a week. But a fairly large number feel the press shows favoritism in its coverage, and perhaps that is why nearly three out of four do not want their newspaper to endorse any candidate.
And just 5% say that the newspaper’s endorsement of a Presidential candidate will affect their vote. (Gore supporters have a far more favorable view of endorsements than Bush backers – perhaps because many of them feel the press is on their side.)
Editorial endorsements, however, have much more weight in other races, with 11% of voters saying an endorsement could affect their choice for Congress and 21% citing it is a factor in their vote in local races.
Asked to select what they considered the most important issues in the race, improving the education system and keeping the economy growing topped the list for Gore supporters, while setting high moral standards and providing a strong national defense led the way for Bush backers. The biggest gaps on issue between supporters of the two candidates came in the areas of providing universal health care, protecting the environment, and implementing tougher gun control measures (with Gore supporters much more strongly embracing all three).
Other findings in the E&P/TIPP poll closely follow other national polls. It finds a large gender gap, with Gore taking the women’s vote by about 10% . Gore leads Bush among blacks 77% to 5%, and among Hispanics by 66% to 20%.
Voters under 24, and over 65, back Gore, while Bush carries the 45 to 64 vote. Each candidate easily carries his party base and evenly shares the Independent vote.
A complete report on the poll, with analysis, will be published next Monday, Sept. 25, in Editor & Publisher magazine. To subscribe, click here.
E&P will continue to poll the public this fall for their attitudes of press coverage, and will survey newspapers on candidate endorsements.
Greg Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is features editor for E&P.
Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.