Is the Media Ignoring Ron Paul

by John Sides on August 23, 2011 · 11 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Media

Dominik Stecula sends the following:

A relatively recent episode of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart discussed the surprisingly infrequent media coverage of Ron Paul, especially considering his strong showing at the Ames Straw Poll. Paul’s campaign even issued a statement about their disappointment with that lack of coverage. Was Jon Stewart right? Using Lexis Nexis, I counted searched the New York Times, Washington Post and Politico for stories mentioning Paul as well as phrases such as “republican primary,” “presidential candidate” or “Republican presidential field.” Below are the results. Consistently with Pew’s recent findings, only Herman Cain and Rick Santorum received comparably little coverage in the period between January 1 and August 18. 2011. Newt Gingrich received more media attention than Ron Paul, despite much lower levels of public support. Sarah Palin, despite not being a declared candidate, enjoyed media attention comparable to that of Michele Bachmann, the winner at Ames.

{ 11 comments }

Scott McClurg August 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm

These graphs are a nice contribution to this discussion, but I don’t wonder if there is a bit of selection bias going on here. These are three of the best sources for hard political news, so I’m not overly surprised that they do a good job on these sorts of things. I would suspect that if we look at 24-hour cable coverage that there might be more substance to Stewart’s original claim. I also think that, more than anything, he his making conjectures on the framing of information more so than actual volume of coverage. But, these are conjectures.

Andrew Gelman August 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm

The x-axis should start at 0. Also, no reason for the dots, you could just put the candidates’ last names where the points are.

Novice August 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Pardon my ignorance, but I’m not sure if these graphs tell us anything. First, the sources – NYT, Washington Post and Politico – are not what Jon Stewart was referring to. You would need to cover television exposure, not print. Second, the number of articles might also not be right may not correlated with exposure. Third, there is clearly endogeneity between % support and no. of articles.

John Sides August 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Novice: Let’s cut Stekula some slack, shall we?

1) It seems reasonable to ascertain whether Ron Paul is “under-covered” in various media. And it’s much easier to count newspaper stories via Lexis-Nexis than it is to summarize television coverage. Especially when you are fooling around testing The Hypotheses of Jon Stewart and sending them (gratis) to a niche polisci blog.

2) The number of articles about a candidate is undoubtedly correlated with exposure — if by exposure we mean “the likelihood that a person will read or hear about that candidate.”

3) The graphs aren’t making causal claims, so endogeneity isn’t really an issue. The question is whether, given the descriptive relationship between stories and poll numbers, Paul seems to be mentioned in fewer stories than his poll numbers would warrant. He does. The comparisons between Paul and Bachmann, Palin, and Gingrich are telling.

Andrew Gelman August 23, 2011 at 2:54 pm

To echo John’s comment: Data are just about always useful. It’s not necessary for a plot to tell the whole story to be useful. (That’s why I suggested some improvements to the graph, so it could convey the data more clearly.) I agree with the other commenter that TV exposure is worth looking at too, and I encourage him or her to post these numbers.

Michael Tesler August 23, 2011 at 3:08 pm

These results are quite consistent with both John Zaller’s Rule of Anticipated Importance and prior evidence from the primaries that he presents in his Theory of Media Politics. “Driving anticipated importance,” according to Zaller, “is that reporters know that their audiences don’t want to know about all of the candidates, only the important ones.” As a result, “some candidates will get considerably more press attention than standard indicators of political strength alone would seem to indicate, while others will get considerably less, and, further, these departures will be intelligible in terms of clear strengths and weaknesses of the affected candidates.” In keeping with that contention, one could certainly argue that the departures between polling and coverage in the graph are intelligible in terms of Paul’s many weaknesses as a candidate.

DNL August 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I’d like to see the x-axis be percentage based. Take all the articles counted and figure out what percentage include Romney — I bet it’d be close to 100%.

CDW August 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Is Ron Paul doing anything worth reporting?

Paul G. August 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Agree with Tesler, though I’d credit Tim Cook’s Governing the News along with Zaller.

Jon Stewart’s mistake–I can only assume intentional for one as media savvy as he is–is that the level of media coverage is driven primarily by the level of national polling support.

Why would we think that is the case unless we conceive of media outlets as simple automatons determining the level of coverage by polling data, not providing some independent evaluation of the viability of the candidates.

Dominik Stecula August 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

Thank you everybody for your thoughtful comments.

Edmond August 25, 2011 at 6:23 pm

If you think Ron Paul doesn’t get any press, look at Gary Johnson.
There is a candidate who is truly being ignored.

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