HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for ABC’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
ABC PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
ABC published great numbers of photos of the candidates in September and October (almost 500 pinned), due in part to the fact that it frequently republished the same image of events — especially the debates.
ABC PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
ABC published similar types of photos of both candidates. With very few “negative” images of either man, viewers might not notice that the photos of Obama were pitched ever so slightly more positively.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by ABC during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 480 photos from ABC News over the three weeks of the general election — 225 photos of Pres. Obama and 255 photos of Gov. Romney. Over the course of the three weeks, ABC News published 30 more photos of Gov. Romney than of Pres. Obama, with most of that discrepancy coming in September before the first debate.
- Romney was pictured alone in the photo frame more often than Obama, and Obama was shown slightly more frequently actively engaged with supporters (reaching out, shaking hands, etc.). Yet researchers did pin a large number of photos of Romney and Obama appearing together on stage during the two presidential debates — and ABC continued to use those photos even days after the events.
- Researchers noted that they coded more “very positive” photos of Obama in the week of the first debate when poll numbers plummeted for Obama, than they had in the two weeks prior, when Obama was high in the polls after the minimal bounce of the Republican National Convention and the fallout from the leaked “47 percent” video for Romney.
- ABC’s videos did not integrate with Pinterest. No videos could be pinned or evaluated. That factor significantly altered the number of images available for evaluation, a concern as ABC, like other websites that are home to legacy TV news outlets, use videos often. However, as ABC News often included screenshots from videos, together with still photos run thumbnail size in a left-hand side column that could be pinned, some “evidence” of those videos was captured and coded. Researchers had no trouble pinning all other types of photos on the site.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from ABC coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — Although ABC published almost half as many images of Romney two weeks prior to the first debate, it published proportionately more photos of Obama coded as “positive” — and proportionately more “negative” photos of Romney.
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers noted an increase in “positive” images of both candidates — with the most dramatic gain for Romney. The result was a more balanced view of the candidates, with a roughly equal tone to the photos published, and a roughly equal count of photographs of both men.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, ABC News published essentially the same proportion of images of Obama coded as “positive” as the week of the first debate (although fewer coded as “very positive”), but also published fewer of Obama that researchers coded as “negative.” Not so for his opponent: researchers coded fewer “positive” images and more “negative” ones of Romney than the week before.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
ABCNews.go.com, the online version of the broadcast television news network, extensively covered the presidential primaries in February and March 2012, including frequent photographs of the top three vote-getting candidates. Researchers who daily checked the site pinned a total of 345 photos: 134 photos of Mitt Romney, 101 photographs of Rick Santorum, 84 of Newt Gingrich and 26 of Ron Paul.
ABC’s photographs of Romney and Santorum portrayed them positively, often picturing them smiling or confidently addressing an audience, and photos of Romney especially showed him engaged with supporters. By contrast, photos of Gingrich and Paul portrayed them most often alone, as more isolated figures than the two frontrunners.
Note, as mentioned below, no video or multimedia pieces were recognized by the Pinterest pinning tool. Therefore, as is true for all the news outlets surveyed, the total number of images pinned to Pinterest should be understood to be representative of those published, not an absolute set of all photographs that could be seen on the site.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
ROMNEY / 134 PINS *
POSITIVE: Throughout the month-long period, ABC News published so many photographs of Romney that the researchers’ evaluation of the images varied widely. Researchers coded few photos of Romney in a negative light, however, noting that most photos depicted Romney in a very positive or slightly positive light. It is worth mentioning that photos from early in the month-long span, when Romney’s front-runner status was somewhat less evident, showed Romney more neutrally.
- ABC published far more close up photos of Romney than of the other three candidates, and it published more close-ups of Romney later in the month-long period between Feb. 25 and March 25. Early in the period, when Romney’s lead in the delegate count was more tenuous, ABC published more photos of Romney in his environs.
- Many of the photographs showed Romney addressing an audience or spontaneously mingling with a crowd, and featured him looking level at the audience. Many showed him affectionally interacting with his wife.
- The majority of the photographs showed Romney with a positive expression on his face, either smiling or in mid-speech. In most of the photographs, Romney could be characterized as friendly, approachable and confident.
SANTORUM / 101 PINS *
POSITIVE: While ABC’s images of Mitt Romney became overall more positive over time, coders noted that the images of Rick Santorum shifted from relatively neutral in tone at the end of February, to very positive at the beginning of March, to less positive by the end of month — a curve that roughly tracked the public’s opinion by the end of March that Romney was going to be unbeatable.
- The photos of Rick Santorum published by ABC often showed him alone — more often than did the photographs of Mitt Romney . When photos appeared of Santorum with other people, he was typically addressing an audience.
- ABC published more medium-distance photos of Santorum than of him in close-up or from far away. Over all, however, as with Romney, earlier photos pictured Santorum at some remove, while photos published later in the month pictured him in greater close-up.
- Coders evaluated the majority of the photographs as positive — they most typically showed Santorum confidently making a point in a speech or smiling at an audience.
GINGRICH / 84 PINS *
NEUTRAL: Together with the Huffington Post, ABCpublished proportionately more photos of Newt Gingrich than any other outlet studied, with the exception of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his home state paper. Yet despite the commitment to cover his candidacy, ABC’s images of Newt Gingrich showed him most often alone, on a podium, rather isolated from supporters. Many photos captured him with a hand out, gesticulating to make his point, a half smile occasionally on his lips, but overall, coders evaluated the images roughly equally between slightly positive, and slightly negative or neutral.
- While ABC published numerous photos of Mitt Romney wading into the crowds, very few similar images appeared of Newt Gingrich. When Gingrich was pictured with others, he was often with his wife standing rather formally at his side, or with a very few others, in what appeared to be more scripted moments.
- ABC published more medium-distance photos of Gingrich than of him in close-up or from far away. Over all, however, as with Romney and Santorum, earlier photos pictured him more regularly from mid-range, while photos published later in the month pictured him in tighter shots, in greater close-up from the chest up.
PAUL / 26 PINS *
NEGATIVE: Like the images of Newt Gingrich, the photos of Ron Paul that appeared on the ABC News website often showed him alone. But while Gingrich appeared confident and charismatic in many images, Ron Paul more often appeared vulnerable and depressed, with a tense or frustrated expression on his face and with awkward hand gestures.
- The photos published of Paul most often showed him alone addressing an audience. On those few occasions when a photo pictures him with others, they were his supporters; his family never appeared.
- In an overwhelming majority of the pictures, Paul is pictured from a middle distance, with the image reproduced here one of the very few close-ups published by ABC. As a result, coders evaluated many of the photos as representing Paul as distant and isolated.
2012 Primary & General Election Coverage
During the 2012 presidential primary and general election season, ABCNews.go.com dedicated most of its “Politics” section to the presidential campaign. The site also included a section entitled “OTUS News” that added to the campaign coverage. Most news stories were accompanied by a full-sized photograph of either the overall event or a specific politician. Also, since the website is a subset of the broadcast television network, the site incorporated many videos. Thumbnail screenshots from those videos were pinnable and were evaluated as part of this study.
PINTEREST: TheABC News website worked reasonably well with Pinterest. The website allowed all photos that appeared across the various sections of the site to be pinned — although the majority of the candidates’ photographs did appear in the Politics section — including screen shots posted from video interviews.
All photographs, whether they were from articles or screenshots of videos, were available to be pinned; when clicked, photos “pinned” without issue to the designated Pinterest boards. One limitation relating to those thumbnail screenshots did emerge, however: sometimes clicking on the pinned thumbnail photograph did not lead back to its origin. Videos, however, could also not be pinned. As a result, researchers could not represent all the components of the full visual experience of a visitor to ABC News via Pinterest. This, however, was true for most news outlets, especially those with significant video, such as the network and cable news outlets.
CONTEXT: ABC News (abcnews.go.com) is the online presence of ABC News television. The website features national and world headlines, articles, message boards, blogs and both archived video and webcasts. ABC News reports on news, sports, traffic and entertainment. ABC News is a broadcasting division of the American Broadcasting Company, founded in 1943, and now a subsidary of the Walt Disney Company. In addition to the evening news show, other news programing includes Good Morning America, Nightline, Primetime, 20/20, and This Week with George Stephanopoulos.