Politics

Public Says Media Harder on Clinton Than Obama, McCain

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Close to half think coverage of three major candidates has been about right

PRINCETON, NJ -- Although Americans in general think that news media coverage of the three major presidential candidates has been "about right," they are more inclined to say the media have been "too hard" on Hillary Clinton and "too easy" on Barack Obama and John McCain.

These results are based on the latest Gallup Panel survey, conducted May 19-21.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are two of the most prominent people to suggest that the news media have been unfairly critical of her and her campaign. The overall sentiment of the American public seems to tilt in agreement, with significantly more Americans saying the media have been too hard on Clinton than say that about either Obama or McCain.

Clinton's supporters generally share this negative view of her treatment by the media -- a majority (56%) of Democrats who support Clinton for the presidential nomination say the media have been too hard on her. That is nearly double the percentage of Obama supporters who say this about Clinton.

Some -- including the Clintons -- have also argued the media were not taking a critical enough look at Obama, though that talk has subsided to some degree given the controversy over his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his remarks about "bitter" rural voters. Most Obama supporters seem satisfied with the coverage of their candidate -- 53% say it has been about right while 33% say it has been too harsh. On the other hand, Clinton supporters are twice as likely to say media coverage has been too easy on Obama as to say it has been too hard on him.

In addition to assessing the coverage of the presidential candidates, the poll asked Americans for their views on news coverage of the political parties during the campaign. The public is slightly more inclined to think the Democratic Party has gotten more favorable coverage, as 23% say the media have been too hard on the Republican Party, compared with 16% who say this about the Democratic Party.

More generally, Americans are roughly divided as to whether they approve (47%) or disapprove (52%) of the job the news media are doing in covering the election. When those who disapprove were asked to explain why, their comments focused more on general criticisms than on treatment of specific candidates.

The most common responses involve general accusations of bias and not being completely truthful. Other criticisms include coverage being too "shallow" and not covering important issues, focusing too much on negative stories, and too much coverage of politics in general. Just 5% say the media have been too favorable to Obama, and only 3% say the media have been too negative toward Clinton.

Republicans who disapprove of media coverage are most likely to say it is because the coverage is biased or too focused on the Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, tend to disapprove because the media coverage is too shallow and does not cover important issues, and because there is too much focus on the negative.

Implications

Although slightly more Americans disapprove than approve of media coverage of the election, the plurality of respondents say the coverage of each presidential candidate and both political parties has been "about right."

Americans have not always been very charitable in their ratings of the media, so while not overly positive, the current ratings are not necessarily bad when put into that context. The media to some extent are saddled with the perception that they do not treat a person's preferred candidate as well as they treat other candidates. This is apparent in the ratings of Clinton's and Obama's media treatment by their supporters, but also applies to ratings of McCain's media coverage by Republicans.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 19-21, 2008. Gallup Panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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