November 13, 2008

High Marks for the Campaign, a High Bar for Obama

Section 5: The Press and Campaign 2008

Television remains the dominant source for campaign news, with fully 68% of voters saying they got most of their presidential campaign news from TV. However, fewer voters cite television as their main campaign news source than did so in 2004 (76%).

Far more voters cite cable (44%) rather than network news (18%) as their top source of election information. The balance of campaign news viewership has shifted increasingly toward cable and away from network broadcasts. While the proportion citing cable has increased slightly since 2004, the share saying network news has fallen substantially (from 29% to 18%).

Among the cable news networks, 22% of voters say they got most of their campaign news from the Fox News Channel, 21% from CNN, and 9% from MSNBC. More voters cite CNN as a main campaign news source than in 2004 (from 15% to 21%), while the Fox News audience has remained stable (21% in 2004, 22% currently). Local TV news continues to make up a small share of the campaign news picture: just 10% of voters name it as their main source.

The proportion of voters citing the internet as a main source for campaign news has risen from 21% in 2004 to 36%. By contrast, newspapers have lost ground since 2004; at that time, 46% said newspapers were their main source of campaign news, but just 33% cite newspapers currently. Radio also is down (from 22% in 2004 to 16%), and magazines are down slightly (6% in 2004, 3% currently).

While television is the top campaign news source for all voters, the internet is as important as television for younger voters. Nearly six-in-ten voters under age 30 (58%) say they get most of their campaign news from the internet, and about the same percentage cites television (60%).

Overall, a solid majority of voters now say that they get any news about the presidential election from the internet. Fully 56% of voters say this, up from 41% in 2004. And among voters ages 18 to 29, 76% say they get any campaign news from the internet, more than in any other age group.

Top Websites for Campaign News

Among the majority of voters who now get some election information online, well-known websites tend to predominate as the sites that voters went to most often for information about the election.

Overall, CNN is mentioned most frequently by voters who got campaign news online: 27% cited CNN as one of the websites they used most often. Other established online entities such as Yahoo, MSNBC/NBC and Fox are also mentioned by at least one-in-ten voters. MSN/Microsoft was cited by 9% of voters as top destination for campaign news, while Google was cited by 7%. The candidates’ websites were visited most often by 13% of voters.

Numerous political blogs and aggregator sites – with a range of partisan leanings – were mentioned by voters as top sources for election information, though generally in smaller numbers. Some 4% of voters who got campaign news online say they visited the Drudge Report most often, while 2% mentioned the Huffington Post. In addition, 5% say they often went to other conservative blogs or websites, while 3% went to polling sites, 2% cited other liberal blogs or websites, and 2% cited the Politico website.

While about the same percentage of Obama voters (59%) and McCain voters (55%) got at least some campaign news from the internet, their website choices differed. Obama voters were about twice as likely to visit CNN as McCain voters (35% vs. 18%). Obama voters were also more likely to name the New York Times and the Huffington Post as websites they used most often to get election information. By contrast, McCain voters were more than three times as likely as Obama voters to most often visit the Fox News website (18% vs. 5%) and the Drudge Report (9% vs. 1%).

Following Election Returns

Overall, 82% of voters say they followed the returns as they were coming in on election night. Obama voters were much more likely than McCain voters to have tracked the election results: nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Obama voters followed the returns compared with 75% of McCain backers.

Most voters (79%) watched the election results on television. Nearly one-in-five (19%) followed election returns on the internet, with voters under age 40 and liberal Obama voters being among the most likely to log on for election night updates.

For some Obama voters, election night was an evening spent with friends: 23% say they followed returns with friends compared with far fewer McCain voters (7%). Liberal and young Obama backers were especially likely to watch with others: more than a quarter of both groups did so. Among McCain voters, 16% of those under 40 followed return with friends, compared with only 4% of older McCain voters. Conservative McCain backers were no more likely than moderate and liberal supporters to have watched with a group.

Overall, news organizations received positive reviews for their election night coverage. Three-quarters
(76%) of voters who followed returns say news organizations did either an excellent (28%) or good (48%) job on election night, while just 23% rated their performance as only fair or poor. In 2004, just 17% rated election night coverage as excellent, compared with 28% currently.

Public Divided Over Press Influence on Election

Many voters express concern over the role of the press in influencing the election outcome. Nearly half (46%) say the press had too much influence on the election outcome, while 48% say news organizations had about the right amount of influence. In 2004, about as many voters (43%) said the press had too much influence on the outcome of the election, while 45% said they had about the right amount of influence.

There are wide partisan differences in views of whether the press has too much influence on the election: Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Republicans say the press had too much of an impact on the election. By contrast, an identical 74% of Democrats take a different view and say the press had the right amount of influence. Independents divide almost evenly, with 48% saying too much and 45% saying the right amount.

By contrast, four years ago, when Republican George W. Bush won a second term in office, partisans held roughly the same views: 46% of Republicans said news organizations had about the right amount of influence on the election outcome as did 45% of Democrats. Similarly, 45% of Republicans and 39% of Democrats said the press had too much influence in 2004.

More voters think the press was fair in the way it covered Obama’s campaign than say the same of the McCain campaign. Two-thirds (67%) say the press was fair toward Obama’s election campaign, compared with a narrower majority (53%) who say that McCain’s election effort was covered fairly. In 2004, 65% said the press was fair to John Kerry’s campaign, while 56% said that Bush was treated fairly.

Currently, an overwhelming percentage of Democrats (83%) think the press was fair toward Obama’s campaign, compared with just 22% of Republicans who say the press was fair to McCain. In 2004, 67% of Democrats thought the press was fair toward Kerry’s campaign and 40% of Republicans said the press was fair to Bush.