HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for Politico’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
POLITICO PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
Of all 18 news outlets, Politico’s photographic coverage of Obama and Romney was the most balanced overall — even if the kinds of photos published differed across the weeks.
POLITICO PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
Within the rough parity of coverage, the tone of the photos in Politico did appear to track the polls — Romney had his most “negative” photos following his “47 percent” comment; Obama after the first debate.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by Politico during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 461 photos from Politico over the three weeks of the general election — 244 photos of Pres. Obama and 217 photos of Gov. Romney.
- Across the three weeks of the PrezPix study, Politico published* a comparable number of photographs of the two candidates, except during the first debate week (Oct.1-7) when researchers found and pinned 40 more photos of Obama. The difference came because of an extensive gallery commemorating the Obama’s 20th anniversary — 40 romantic snapshots of the couple through the years. Those snapshots of the Obamas’ anniversary offset the considerably more negative photos of Obama from the first presidential debate — a fortuitous confluence of dates for Obama.
- As a result of that “positive” offset for Obama the week of the first debate, overall researchers coded both candidates’s photos remarkably similar in tone across the weeks. The only other news outlet to do so as consistently was Bloomberg. However, unlike Bloomberg, Politico’s coverage seemed to be more responsive to the polls: the greatest number of photographs of Obama that researchers coded as “negative” came from the first debate —reflecting Obama’s poor performance and his drop in the polls. Researchers coded the September photos of Romney — when he was struggling in the polls after the leak of his “47 percent” comment — most negatively.
- A high percentage of the photographs Politico published over the two debate weeks (Oct. 1-7 and 15-22) were pictures from the debate. Researchers noted a striking contrast between those two weeks in terms of how the candidates — Obama in particular — were pictured. In the first debate week, there was a significant number of photos where Obama appeared downcast or uncomfortable, while Romney comparatively appeared relaxed and confident. Moreover, Politico also published several splitscreen photos from that debate that juxtaposed an image of a somber Obama with an image of a confident Romney. In the second debate week, however, Politico’s photographs from the debates more frequently pictured the candidates showing similar expressions and body language (e.g. both smiling and shaking hands, both talking, both looking confident or looking angry).
- Politico provided extensive coverage of the presidential campaign, publishing news stories and opinion pieces on its homepage and the “Politico 44” and “Opinion” sections. Most of these articles featured a large news photo at the top of the page. Researchers could pin nearly all photos, but coders could not pin most videos. Politico also published several photo galleries featuring the candidates in its “Photos” section. All of those photographs were pinnable.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from Politico coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — The discrepancy in numbers of photos of the candidates appeared to researchers to be the real story over the course of the three-week PrezPix study. In both September and October the general coding for both Obama and Romney appeared roughly equal. Two weeks prior to the first debate, Politico published a roughly equal percentage of “positive,” “neutral” and “negative” photos of the two candidates — despite Romney’s lower poll numbers as a result of the leak of the “47 percent” video the week before.
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers again coded the photos roughly equally in tone by percent of those found and pinned. But they did note that they found 40 photographs* more of Obama than of Romney over that period, and they coded more “very positive” photos of Obama, despite the drop-off in his poll numbers following the debate.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, researchers coded more “neutral” photos of the two candidates — and coded both Obama and Romney roughly the same.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
In February and March 2012, Politico, a primarily web-based publication, provided extensive coverage of the GOP presidential primaries, including photos of all four candidates on almost a daily basis. Politico watched closely as candidates campaigned all over the country, and dedicated ample site space to each candidate, even providing a “candidate tracker” to keep tabs on their public appearances. Stories were posted daily in accordance with the latest events, and almost always were front-page news.
Like many of the other news outlets, the number of photos that appeared on Politico tracked with the rough poll numbers and delegate counts of the candidates: (e.g. Romney received the most coverage with 76 pins, while Paul received the least with 22). Still, Paul received proportionately more coverage on Politico than he did on all other news sites except for the Huffington Post (14 percent) and the Christian Science Monitor (tied with Politico at 12 percent).
Overall, the photos that Politico‘s photo editor’s chose to represent the four candidates were not the typical choice of photos. Many images were shot at unusual angles, used creative lighting, or were simply a different look than news sites traditionally put up. Many of these more unique images were successful in grabbing the readers’ attention, but some of them did so at a cost to the candidate’s image and message.
Politico often ran photos that included several of the candidates, for example, on stage during a debate. Politico also liberally used split-screen photos with their stories — sometimes of all four candidates, other times of a single candidate with one or more other political actors, ranging from Michele Obama to Pres. Reagan. When editors chose to juxtapose several candidates together, the photo choice had the effect of impartiality or comparison. Oftentimes, the split-screen photos showed the different candidates with similar expressions (e.g. all smiling, all serious). But on occasion a candidate lost out in the comparison, as in the split screen (lower left) with Romney looking angry, or split screens that juxtaposed Mitt Romney with his infamous Irish setter or Ron Paul with Kelly Clarkson.
In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 146 photos: almost equal numbers of photos of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — 59 photos of Romney, 56 photographs of Santorum — and 26 of Newt Gingrich and 5 photos of Ron Paul.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
ROMNEY / 76 PINS *
POSITIVE: Politico’s photos of Romney were literally all about Romney. Many of the images Politico selected to accompany its stories set Romney not just as the primary focus, but often the only focus of the images. Romney appeared as a pronounced figure, standing in front of an American flag backdrop, large pro-Romney campaign banners, and crowds of people blurred to make his face stand out.
- Coders noted that Romney often appeared smiling, and therefore confident, but that almost equally often the selected photos captured Romney at an awkward moment with his face distorted in a moment of speech. Such impressions (positive, ambiguous, negative) appeared literally magnified in the plethora of close-up photos.
- Romney was the only candidate pictured by Politico more often surrounded by supporters than appearing alone. The photos pinned from Politico of Romney showed him among supporters in almost a third of the photos; by comparison, Politico’s photos of Santorum, Gingrich and Paul showed them surrounded by supporters in less than one quarter of the photos. Coders noted that showing a candidate with voters suggests that that candidate is popular and perceived favorably, although they noted too that while some photos of Romney showed him mingling and interacting with his supporters, the majority simply showed him standing in front of a large crowds.
SANTORUM / 56 PINS *
POSITIVE: Overall, Politico‘s photos of Rick Santorum were also positive, but coders noted that they, like those of Romney, often had a bit of an edge.
- While the photo editors’ creative choices of images no doubt added to the visual excitement of Politico’s website, such images projected problematic messages. In one image of Santorum standing at a podium, viewers can see only his shadow (photo above left). Researchers coded this photo, for example, as “negative” for its association of a dark, ominous figure with the candidate.
- Politico ran many close-ups of Santorum — although not quite as many or quite as close as those it ran of Romney. Yet a substantial number of even those photos coded as “positive” photos for the candidates, however, were not images that the candidates’ staffers would likely have selected for their own promotional materials (see, for example, the “flag photos” of Santorum and Romney looking bemused, both duplicated on this page).
GINGRICH / 32 PINS *
NEUTRAL: Thirteen of the 32 photos pinned of Gingrich were split-screen shots of Gingrich and the other candidates. While Gingrich appeared to a relative advantage in quite a few of those photos, the high percentage of those images meant that Politico’s audience had an opportunity to see Gingrich by himself only two-thirds of the time. The effect was that viewers inevitably compared him to the other candidates.
- Although images often showed him gesturing to the crowd, it was not in an inclusive, welcoming, “I’m one of you,” I’m a “Man of the People” kind of way.
- With a dour expression on his face and visually separated from his audience, coders found Gingrich to be stiff, a “Stern Taskmaster” of sorts, who lectures rather than engages with supporters .
PAUL/ 22 PINS *
NEUTRAL: Of the 22 photographs of Ron Paul that appeared on Politico, only one showed him mingling with supporters and only two others showed him speaking with the crowd visible (as the photo left below). Ten photos showed him in a split screen with other candidates, and the rest showed him (essentially) by himself.
- The two photos (left), representative of images of Paul by himself and with an audience, captured Paul grimacing (top) or making an odd face (below) while audience members acted goofily. In neither of these instances did coders evaluate Paul as appearing presidential.
2012 General Election Coverage
During the 2012 general election season, Politico extensively covered the campaign and the GOP candidates. The site dedicated an entire section of its online content to “2012 Live,” which featured a candidate tracker, a delegate tracker, a calendar of events, a section for poll results and a section for election results. The main page for “2012 Live,” aggregated all of the site’s news stories relative to the election. However, because the site has a relatively small and specific type of content, most of the news stories were featured on Politico’s homepage. Every news story used a photograph, generally from the Associated Press or Reuters, that could be “pinned” to our Pinterest pages. Though the site’s blogs covered the election as well, particularly the “Burns and Haberman Blog,” photographs were rarely used on those pages.
PINTEREST: Politico functioned appropriately with Pinterest; when clicked, photos “pinned” to Pinterest boards, and navigated back to the story associated with that photograph. For a smaller news organization, Politico had an abundance of political photographs. All photos on the news site were available to be “pinned,” with the exception of most still shots of videos.
CONTEXT: Politico is a strictly-politics news outlet that publishes out of Arlington, Virginia via the Politico.com, and a limited-circulation newspaper that distributed for free on Capitol Hill every day that Congress is in session and to the greater Washington area
Politico is owned by Allbritton Communcations, which owns TV stations and other media affiliated with the American Broadcasting Company. John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei left the Washington Post to launch the newspaper on January 23, 2007. Although President and CEO Frederick J. Ryan Jr. once worked for President Reagan, the site has occasionally been accused of liberal bias.