Sunday morning talk shows and portrayals of public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign

The 2016 presidential campaign has been unique thus far, to say the least. It makes the 2012 cycle look downright boring. Yet, one aspect of the 2012 campaign that stood out to me was the use of public opinion polling by media to frame the race.

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This paper was presented August 7, 2016 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minn. An early version was presented February 27, 2016 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Midwinter Conference in Norman, Okla.

The 2016 presidential campaign has been unique thus far, to say the least. It makes the 2012 cycle look downright boring. Yet, one aspect of the 2012 campaign that stood out to me was the use of public opinion polling by media to frame the race. Leading up to Election Day, it seemed pretty clear that President Obama would have the electoral votes to win a second term. Election forecasting guru Nate Silver thought so, and most polling data agreed.

However, a completely different picture was painted in conservative media – at least in a few anecdotal instances. Fox News contributor Dick Morris infamously predicted a “landslide” victory for Mitt Romney, while Karl Rove’s refusal to accept Obama’s victory-sealing win in Ohio made for awkward Election Night coverage for the cable news ratings leader. Both had evidence on their side – poll numbers that made it look like Romney was indeed going to win Ohio and the White House. But those polls were in the minority, and they were wrong.

This matters. Previous research suggests that publishing of public opinion polls can actually influence public opinion, and eventually, voting. To be fair, these findings have always been tough to untangle. Does a poll showing a candidate with a big lead create a bandwagon effect where everyone wants to vote for the inevitable winner, or does it spur an underdog effect in which the losing candidate’s supporters mobilize to close the gap? Does depicting a close race boost turnout, while voters skip out on a projected blowout? There’s evidence of all of these. Continue reading “Sunday morning talk shows and portrayals of public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign”

Katrina 10: Two stations, one studio

As someone who studies media, I was fascinated by local coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Television stations in the affected region began broadcasting uninterrupted coverage ahead of the storm, and many continued for almost a week afterward.

The situation was particularly unique at WAPT, the Jackson, Miss. ABC affiliate (which, full-disclosure, I would later work at for a brief time). The night before landfall, they welcomed sister Hearst station WDSU from New Orleans, and for days, the two news teams covered two cities on one network.

Hearst issued this release in September of 2005, describing the scene at WAPT and in Jackson generally. It doesn’t appear to be available online anymore, so for the 10th anniversary of Katrina, I’m reposting it below:

HURRICANE KATRINA
Candy Altman
Vice President, News/Hearst Television
09/13/05

It is Wednesday …the first Wednesday after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. There is a frantic energy in the air and the halls are crowded at WAPT in Jackson Mississippi, where there is no running water and phone service is barely operable. I turn the corner walking swiftly toward the WDSU makeshift newsroom, and there I see the story of Hurricane Katrina in a microcosm. Longtime New Orleans anchorman Norman Robinson, a rock of a man in personality and stature, is crying uncontrollably. It’s his 8-year-old granddaughter. He can’t find her. She is the light of his life, and she was staying in an area damaged by the storm

And so goes another day in the new world of WDSU-TV, Hearst’s New Orleans television station. Reporters, photographers, producers, technicians all covering a story that dramatically impacts their own lives under working conditions which can best be described as primitive. Forced out of their home base by the threat of rising floodwaters and a tide of violence, the television station never stopped broadcasting, whether it was over the web or over the air. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This coverage re-creates the meaning of service to the community.

Continue reading “Katrina 10: Two stations, one studio”

Do World Cup TV ratings mean Americans are embracing soccer?

Is soccer ready to hit mainstream American culture? Or even mainstream American sports culture? After the U.S. Women’s National Team claimed their third World Cup – and after it was watched by more Americans than any soccer match in history – it’s a question worth asking, even if it has been asked before. But now, for the first time, soccer has something new in America – ratings.

Is soccer ready to hit mainstream American culture? Or even mainstream American sports culture? After the U.S. Women’s National Team claimed their third World Cup – and after it was watched by more Americans than any soccer match in history – it’s a question worth asking, even if it has been asked before. Many times.

Soccer was supposed to arrive in 1994, when the Men’s World Cup was hosted in the U.S. for the first time; in 1996, when Major League Soccer opened play; in 1999, when the U.S. Women won their second World Cup, Mia Hamm drank Gatorade with Michael Jordan, and Brandi Chastain became synonymous with one the most iconic images in sports; in 2004, when 14-year-old Freddy Adu was hailed was the next Pelé and vaulted into professional competition before he could drive a car; in 2007, when David Beckham eschewed European power Real Madrid to play for the LA Galaxy of MLS.

Brandi Chastain celebrates winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Robert Beck / SI

We’ve been here plenty just in the past two decades. But now, for the first time, soccer has something new in America – ratings.

Continue reading “Do World Cup TV ratings mean Americans are embracing soccer?”

An awful game can’t stop the Super Bowl – Notes on ratings, ads, Bruno Mars and the dominance of the NFL

The Seattle Seahawks took 12 seconds to score against the Denver Broncos Sunday night. Perhaps more accurately, it took the Broncos 12 seconds to score on themselves. Both of those trends would maintain throughout the night as Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s 48 for the Roman-numerically challenged) turned into a showcase for the best defense in the league and a nightmare for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who now has lost more games in the postseason than anyone else.

The third-largest blowout in Super Bowl history may have been responsible for some of the early exits from the party I attended. And surely it was trouble for FOX and its legion of advertisers, who paid $4 million for the most expensive 30 seconds on television.

Only it wasn’t, because the NFL is the biggest draw in entertainment today, and its dominance has never been more evident.

Continue reading “An awful game can’t stop the Super Bowl – Notes on ratings, ads, Bruno Mars and the dominance of the NFL”

Sports blackout rules don’t fit Internet Age

In a society whose entertainment is increasingly Web-centric, it was only a matter of time before technology caught up with our desire for streaming video anywhere, anytime. For most, that now means Hulu and Netflix. For sports fans, the next generation arrived with ESPN360 ESPN3 WatchESPN (Reliable service; inconsistent branding). Loads and loads of sporting events from the worldwide leader. Stuff that was airing on ESPN or ESPN2, plus tons of smaller college and second-tier sports not televised anywhere. Watch it live, watch a replay, watch on your computer, on your TV, on your phone. The future is now! Unless:

“We’re sorry, this game is not available in your area.”

Ah, the regional blackout. Designed to protect television and radio networks from hemorrhaging audience share to competing outlets, thus insuring lucrative broadcast rights, blackouts are part of making the games work financially for all parties. Traditionally, it kept national broadcasters from airing games in the two teams’ hometown markets. So, if ESPN wanted to nationally televise a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers, they can do so. But, folks in Florida and Michigan wouldn’t be able to see the ESPN broadcast, because local television contracts require that the hometown broadcast be the only show in town. Same thing for the NBA, NHL, and major college athletics. There are exceptions, but you get the general principle.

(The NFL blackout policy is much worse. Comparable to a ransom, it further requires a team to sellout its stadium before a game can be televised in that team’s home market. You want TV? Buy up our outrageously priced tickets. At times, it has led to TV stations and advertisers buying up remaining seats at the league’s 72-hours-to-kickoff deadline.)

The Internet messed this up. People are becoming more accustomed to receiving content whenever and wherever they please. And they can… except when it comes to sports, where the old blackout rules carried over into the digital age.

Continue reading “Sports blackout rules don’t fit Internet Age”