Network News Overlooks Policy Issues In Midterm Coverage

A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.

Polling Shows That The Economy and Health Care Were The Most Important Policy Issues To Voters

Economy And Health Care Top Polls On Issues Important To Voters. Several polls conducted this year concluded that health care and the economy were the two most important issues for voters leading up to the midterm elections. An Associated Press-GfK poll concluded that 92 percent of voters stated that the economy was “extremely” or “very” important to them, and 80 percent of voters stated the same for health care. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll similarly found that the economy and health care were the top two issues to voters thinking about the 2014 midterm elections:

Most Important Issues[Associated Press, 10/1/14; Huffington Post, 10/31/14]

A Majority Of Nightly News Election Coverage Failed To Mention Key Policy Issues

Policy Issues Were Mentioned In Only 35 Percent Of Nightly News Segments. A study conducted by Media Matters revealed that in the network news coverage of the midterm elections from September 1 - November 3, only 35 percent of segments mentioned key policy issues. Media Matters looked for discussions of issues including the economy, federal deficit, health care, climate change, foreign policy, immigration, same sex marriage, reproductive health, gun safety, campaign finance, voting rights, and equal pay for women:

Network News Coverage

CBS Devoted Less Than Half Of Its Election Coverage To Policy Discussions -- But Still Outpaced ABC And NBC. CBS Evening News covered policy issues during their midterm reporting more than the nightly news coverage on NBC and ABC, with 40 percent of CBS' segments mentioning a key issue. NBC Nightly News' election coverage mentioned issues just over 30 percent of the time. ABC World News Tonight had the lowest percent, with only one out of their four segments, 25 percent, mentioning important policy issues:

Network News Coverage Breakdown

Of Scant Coverage Of Policy Issues In Election Segments, Particular Policy Topics Were Discussed More Than Others

Of Scant Coverage, Economy And Health Care Were The Most Discussed Issues. Among the minimal coverage of policy issues, the most discussed issues on broadcast news segments on the midterms were the economy and health care with eight and six mentions respectively. Issues such as voting rights and immigration were only mentioned in conjunction with specific events; such as when President Obama announced his decision to delay executive action on immigration reform and when the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing Texas' strict voter ID laws to go into effect. Noticeably missing from the midterm conversation was any mention of the federal deficit, climate change, or equal pay and benefits for women, all of which weren't mentioned a single time throughout the networks' coverage of the midterms:

Which Issues Were Mentioned?

CBS Covered A Diverse Range Of Issues, ABC And NBC Focused Primarily On Obama. Out of the twelve policy issues that Media Matters searched, CBS mentioned nine. In particular, CBS focused on the economy which they addressed in four segments. They were also the only network that covered immigration, same sex marriage, gun safety, and campaign finance throughout their midterm reporting. NBC's midterm coverage focused on Obama's role in the election with nearly half of their reports discussing the implications of Obama's low popularity. ABC's coverage focused primarily on Obama in 75 percent of their segments.

Methodology: Media Matters searched LexisNexis transcripts of ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly news programs from September 1 - November 3 for “election or candidate or campaign or midterm or poll!” and included only substantive segments on the 2014 midterm elections. Passing mentions and teases of upcoming segments were not included in this study. Segments were searched for mentions of the following issues: health care, the federal deficit, the economy/jobs, climate change, foreign policy, immigration, same sex marriage, reproductive health, gun safety, campaign finance, voting rights, and equal benefits for women.