The tonal disparity was also evident throughout the fall. Both candidates finished with more negative stories than positive ones, but Romney’s negative stories outpaced Obama’s by more than 2 to 1. All told, 20 percent of Obama’s coverage was positive compared to 29 percent that was negative, while Romney came in at 15 percent positive and 37 negative.
While conservatives have long claimed a liberal bias in the mainstream media — this year those claims extended to the public polls — the Pew study is not meant to gauge this phenomenon, as much of the coverage deemed favorable to Obama was tied to his lead in the polls and his more favorable path to an Electoral College victory.
“The study of the tone in news coverage is not an examination of media bias,” Pew said. “Rather, it measures the overall impression the public is receiving in the media about each candidate, whether the assertion is a quote from a source, a fact presented in the narrative that is determined to be favorable or unfavorable, including poll results, or is part of a journalistic analysis.”
In addition, Hurricane Sandy seems to have reduced the amount of coverage for the GOP challenger in the final week of the campaign.
“Romney may have suffered in final days from the press focusing less on him relative to his opponent,” the study concluded. “After receiving roughly identical levels of coverage for most of October, in the last week of campaigning Obama was a significant presence in eight out of 10 campaign stories compared with six in 10 for Romney — one of the biggest disparities in any week after Labor Day.”
Pew found that storm coverage regarding Obama was largely neutral, but that he might have benefited from “passing references” about his response to the disaster.
Pew analyzed 660 stories from 49 mainstream outlets and counted each assertion to determine if it was positive or negative for the candidate. A story deemed positive would have to have positive assertions outnumber negative ones by a ratio of 3-to-1, and vice versa.