This page provides a summary of research results for CNN’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.


Week 1 — Obama/CNN, Sept. 23, 2012

Week 2 — Obama/CNN, Oct. 4, 2012

Week 3 — Obama/CNN, Oct. 16, 2012

Like most other outlets, CNN published an extensive number of debate photos  — but they weren’t neutral: the candidates were often seen speaking over each other in a manner unflattering to one of them.


Week 1 — Romney/CNN, Sept. 19, 2012

Week 2 — Romney/CNN, Oct. 2, 2012

Week 3 — Romney/CNN, Oct. 17, 2012

Most photos of the candidates showed them talking during campaign stops or at the debates — and focused more on their expressions than on the larger context of where they were speaking.

These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by CNN during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.  Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.


  • Researchers pinned a total of 375 photos from CNN over the three weeks of the general election — 168 photos of Pres. Obama and 207 photos of Gov. Romney, or slightly over 20 percent more photographs of Romney.
  • Across the weeks of the PrexPix study, researchers noted that both candidates appeared alone, often in close-up, a majority of the time — the key exception was in the photographs from the presidential debates when both men typically appeared on stage or at the podium in a single frame.  For the most part the photos were not just “head shots” used as filler on a page, they were taken and used more as “portraits” of the candidates.
  • CNN illustrates its website extensively with videos — none of which could researchers pin to Pinterest during the duration of the PrezPix study.  That inability significantly altered the number and type of visuals available for evaluation and altered how well researchers could duplicate the visual experience that visitors to the site would have had.  Researchers also noted that the daily number of published candidate photographs available to be pinned varied quite widely, in part because CNN periodically posted extensive slideshows chronicling events on the campaign trail.


These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from CNN coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.

Week 1 — CNN/Obama (39 photos pinned for the week)

Week 2 — CNN/Obama (54 photos pinned for the week)

Week 3 — CNN/Obama (75 photos pinned for the week)

Week 1 — CNN/Romney (65 photos pinned for the week)

Week 2 — CNN/Romney (63 photos pinned for the week)

Week 3 — CNN/Romney (79 photos pinned for the week)

  • Sept. 17-23 — Two weeks prior to the first debate, CNN published* significantly more “positive” photos of Obama (and fewer “negative” photos) than of Romney — although overall researchers found and pinned significantly more images of Romney than of Obama, especially in September.
  • Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers recorded a dramatic drop off in the number of photos coded as “positive” for both candidates.  The photographs of both candidates were dominated by “neutral” images, although the images of Romney leaned “positive” and those of Obama leaned “negative” — not surprising, given the poll numbers following that first debate contest.
  • Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, CNN published more “balanced” photos of the two candidates — researchers coded roughly equal numbers of positive, negative and neutral photos for both Obama and Romney, with Obama’s images slightly edging “positive.”


This pie chart shows‘s relative photographic attention to each of the four GOP candidates.

In February and March 2012, extensively covered the GOP presidential nominee race. CNN’s around-the-clock coverage of election developments spurred the publishing of many photos. Researchers pinned a total of 288 photos during the research period: 143 photos of Mitt Romney, 97 photographs of Rick Santorum, 35 of Newt Gingrich and 13 of Ron Paul.

The significant difference in the amount of coverage among all four candidates obscured somewhat the type of coverage across the four candidates. As a network that takes its role as a news organization of record seriously, CNN ran multiple articles on the formal debates among the GOP candidates and covered as well the candidates’ major speeches. As a result, a substantial proportion of the images of each of the candidates depicted them in those formal environments.

CNN — Mitt Romney & Rick Santorum, AFP/Getty. 3/9/2012

CNN also made liberal use of split-screen images, using photos of two candidates to illustrate an article, rather than selecting a photo of just one candidate to feature. Most of CNN’s coverage of Ron Paul and to a slightly lesser degree of Newt Gingrich showed them in the debate settings or juxtaposed in a split screen with another candidate. CNN’s greater attention to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney allowed it to report more broadly on the two men, and so CNN’s photographic record of those two leading candidates included a greater range of situations and a greater range of types of photographs.

Note, as mentioned below, no video, photo gallery images, 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.


CNN — Mitt Romney, Getty. 3/1/12

CNN — Mitt Romney, Getty. 3/15/2012

POSITIVE: Mitt Romney was the favorite to capture the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election for the majority of this study, although Rick Santorum rose above Romney in the national polls for a brief time at the beginning of this study. Despite the stiff challenges from Santorum in the polls, CNN usually pictured Romney in a positive light, often showing him in photographs taken from a low angle so he appeared strong, thoughtful and even visionary. (CNN used the image, left, at least 4 times in March, on the 1st, 4th, 9th and 15th.)

  • CNN selected more photographs of Romney interacting with potential supporters than they did for his competitors. Most of the remaining images show Romney animatedly addressing an audience, or on stage for the GOP presidential debates.
  • Whether on stage or while wading into a crowd, CNN typically published photos of Romney smiling and looking confident — the images made him appear an inspiring and charismatic leader.


CNN — Rick Santorum, Getty. 3/16/12

CNN — Rick Santorum, AFP/Getty. 3/13/2012

POSITIVE: Mitt Romney sat atop the national polls for much of the study period and CNN pictured Romney more frequently than Santorum, but the coverage that Santorum received was equally as positive.

  • As with Romney, CNN frequently photographed Santorum addressing an audience of potential supporters, and similarly, as with all the candidates, CNN showed Santorum on stage at the debates, and in split-screen shots, at times with Romney and on other occasions with Gingrich. In almost all the photos selected by CNN, Santorum came across positively, as a serious contender for the presidency, as a candidate who was both confident and approachable.


CNN — Newt Gingrich, Getty. 3/10/12

CNN — Newt Gingrich, Shawna Shepherd/CNN. 3/16/2012

NEUTRAL: Not a single pinned CNN image of Newt Gingrich showed him interacting with supporters — although CNN did publish one photo of Gingrich petting an elephant (!), and it did publish several of him slightly smiling (including one which illustrated three different articles).

  • CNN ran photos of Gingrich in images from the debates, where he appeared on stage with the other major candidates and it ran multiple close-ups of Gingrich at his own rallys and speeches. Coders evaluated most of those latter photos as neutral in tone; he is speaking or listening, but is neither smiling nor frowning.

PAUL / 13 PINS *

CNN — Ron Paul, Getty. 3/1/12

NEUTRAL: CNN’s coverage of Ron Paul reflected his fourth place in the Republican nominee race. Paul rarely appeared in photos on CNN’s website, in fact he only appeared by himself alone as a candidate in four of the pinned images.

  • In nine of the pinned images Paul was pictured alongside his opponents, and even in those group photos he rarely appeared as a leading or pivotal figure, visually or by considering the photo’s content and tone.
  • Coders noted that several of the photos of Paul alone portrayed him as weary or downcast, making him appear less as a serious contender for the presidency than as a figure concerned with carrying a message to the public.

2012 Primary Election Coverage extensively covered the 2012 Republican presidential nominee race and the general election with around the clock coverage from its “Political Ticker Blog” and “Politics” section on its main news site. While the coverage in the Politics section and Political Ticker Blog is quite extensive and up-to-date, due to the high volume of content and turnover of article, researchers noted that quite a few photos were recycled and used to illustrate more than one article.

PINTEREST: photographs interfaced well with Pinterest. Using the “Pin It” button, researchers were able to pin all photographs on a given page, but researchers could not pinn stand-alone videos (the clickable video images) to Pinterest. As a result, all the components of the full visual experience of a visitor to CNN — which would have included photographs as well a arrested videos — could not be represented via Pinterest. This was true for most news outlets, especially those with significant video, such as the network and cable news outlets.

CONTEXT: Cable News Network (CNN) is a U.S. and international cross-platform news organization based out of Atlanta, with offices and correspondents around the world, including in New York City and Washington D.C. CNN, launched in 1980 by Ted Turner, began as a U.S. cable news outlet and expanded into an international news media organization with 24-hour/7-day-a-week news coverage across multiple digital and broadcast platforms.  It is now owned by Time Warner Inc..

* NB: Researchers applied the same collection methodology for all the news outlets studied. It is likely that the researchers on this survey did not collect every photograph published, and, on occasion, certain photographs that could be viewed were not collectible by Pinterest. The total number of photographs studied, therefore, should be understood to be representative of those published on the news outlets, not an absolute set of all photographs published on all sites.
It is fair to note, however, that the number of photographs of any individual candidate collected for any given site is a rough indication of the commitment of that site to photographically covering that specific candidate.