Media coverage of the election has been filled with heated rhetoric and personal attacks, leading to high ratio of sentimental coverage. The recent rise in statements without sentiment (neutral) and relative drop in statements with sentiment has been caused by the Romney tax return debate and Obama’s pronouncements about the role of government.
Neutral statements are those that lack praise, criticism, or do not have any reputational impact for either of the candidates. In the past two weeks, percentage of neutral statements in election coverage has increased 30% and there has been a drop in negative coverage from 40% of total statements in mid-July to just 17% of statements being negative from July 20-23.
This increase in neutral coverage has been driven by Romney and Obama. From July 14 – 23, neutral statements from Romney and Obama combined increased by 33%. This has been due to two things. First, the Romney tax return debate has put Romney into defense mode. He has spent more of his air time explaining his taxes and defending his record at Bain Capital than attacking Obama. He has also been speaking about his role in the 2002 Winter Olympics as a way to divert attention away from his taxes. Because of the explicative nature of his discussion, over 25% of the neutral statements from him and Obama have come from him and have been about Candidate Character.
Second, Barack Obama recently began speaking about the importance of government in creating economic opportunity. His statement, “if you have a business, you didn’t build that”, has been amplified intensely. Therefore, neutral statements from Obama about the Role of Government make up 18% of the neutral quotes from Romney and Obama.
It has been these two trends: Romney talking about his background and Obama talking about the role of government, that has shored up, momentarily, the negative nature of election coverage.