The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates who have been dubbed “frontrunners” by the media and political commentators are–not surprisingly–receiving the most media coverage. In a recent analysis of campaign coverage by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the organization documented that a disproportionate amount of media coverage is going to frontrunners:
Not only does this selective coverage limit voters’ exposure to the candidates, it also appears to have some influence on who is winning the primaries and caucuses. The Project for Excellence in Journalism writes:
“…the differences in the amount of media coverage among the top contenders in both parties last week quite closely reflected the margins in the New Hampshire vote. Clinton, who defeated Obama by three percentage points outdistanced him in coverage by five points. On the GOP side, McCain, who bested Romney by 5 points in New Hampshire, outdid him in coverage by five points as well.”
While the analysis is useful, it does not ask what kind of coverage candidates are receiving. Are the stories “horse race” pieces in which reporters look only at poll numbers? Do they examine candidates’ positions? In previous years of doing “Election Watch,” the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) has found that the majority of stories tend to be the former, focusing primarily on polls and where candidates are speaking, rather than substantive explorations of candidates’ positions, voting records, and policies.