HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for USA Today’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
USA TODAY PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA
USA Today‘s photos of the candidates fell into two clear categories: before the debates and after the first one. “Before” photos showed the candidates campaigning, often standing alone, but in diverse settings.
USA TODAY PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY
“After” the first debate, the vast majority of the images USA Today published* of both men showed them at the debates, often in a split-screen face-off or in a single image sharing the stage.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by USA Today during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 223 photos from USA Today over the three weeks of the general election — 125 photos of Pres. Obama and 98 photos of Gov. Romney.
- Most of the disparity in number of photos pinned came in September, two weeks before the first debate. Obama appeared in a much larger array of situations than Romney: not just on the campaign trail giving stump speeches, but fraternizing on late-night TV, entertaining heads of state and foreign dignitaries at the White House, and in general acting presidential, walking up to Air Force One, heading to his limo, speaking at the UN.
- The majority of images featured the candidates alone or without their opponent until after the first debate. From then on the men were typically pictured talking at the debates. On the majority of those occasions, researchers coded the images as “neutral,” rather than “positive” or “negative” in tone.
- USA Today’s coverage of the presidential election emphasized breaking-news stories documenting the latest developments on the campaign trail, with most found in the “News” section of the website and accompanied by a photo leading the article. Relatively few articles offered commentary on the campaign, although USA Today did use slideshows to show the sequence of events that occur around presidential debates. Researchers were able to pin to Pinterest all photographs found on the site; they could not, however, pin any videos.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from USA Today coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — In the week prior to the first debate, researchers coded significantly more “positive” photos of Obama than of Romney. USA Today published almost twice as many images of Obama as Romney two weeks prior to the first debate and proportionately more photos of Obama coded as “positive.” Romney’s negatives were high, perhaps reflecting his struggle in the polls after the leak of his ”47 percent” comment.
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, after Obama’s weak performance, researchers noted that the photographs of Romney trended significantly more “positive” than those of Obama — more Romney photos coded “positive” and almost none coded “negative.”
- Oct. 15-21 — That balance again flipped the week of the second debate, when Romney’s “negatives” rose, and his positives dropped to about half of Obama’s.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
In February and March 2012, USA Today provided modest coverage of the GOP presidential primaries — and tracked the four candidates in both proportion and tone in ways commensurate with the conventional wisdom about their electability and delegate count. Half of USAToday.com‘s photo coverage, as pinned to Pinterest by researchers, featured Mitt Romney and did so very positively. USAToday.com gave increasingly less attention and less favorable coverage to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
Overall, the photos that USAToday.com’s photo editor’s chose to represent the four candidates appeared very American — literally. Photos framed the candidates in red, white and blue, whether those colors came from the American flags in the background or from the candidate’s own patriotic banners and bunting (see the photos below for each candidate). So uniform was the color balance that a single photo on the Romney Pinterest board that showed a supporter in a yellow poncho stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.
In total, researchers “pinned” to Pinterest 107 photos: 53 photos of Romney, 28 photographs of Santorum, 15 of Newt Gingrich and 11 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 / 53 PINS *
POSITIVE: USA Today published positive photos of Romney speaking to audiences and mingling with and reaching out to supporters. Overall coders noted that in those photos Romney appeared presidential, competent and likable.
- What differentiated the photographs of Romney from those of his opponents was USAToday.com typically showed him smiling broadly and surrounded by supporters: suggesting that he was approachable as well as electable.
SANTORUM / 28 PINS *
POSITIVE: USAToday.com favorably portrayed Rick Santorum — albeit in fewer images than frontrunner Romney, and with a modicum less of enthusiasm.
- Santorum came across in photos as an accessible, yet serious candidate, at times appearing with supporters, but with fewer grinning moments while either speaking to or engaging with them. Yet the fact that the photos captured his direct level gaze, prompted coders to evaluate him as appearing honest and genuine, both “positive” traits.
- Santorum also appeared in more USAToday.com photos entirely alone — without supporters visible in the background — than did Romney, leading coders to evaluate the images of Santorum slightly less positively than Romney’s, as those images left the impression that Santorum was more isolated from, and perhaps less popular to voters.
GINGRICH /15 PINS *
NEUTRAL: USAToday.com portrayed Newt Gingrich in a rather neutral way — with fewer images than frontrunners Romney and Santorum, and most of those either picturing the candidate alone, or on stage either with other candidates or his wife.
- The photographs pinned from USAToday.com rarely showed Gingrich smiling, but neither did they show him angry or appearing condescending. Captured often in mid-speech, but without evident supporters in the frame, Gingrich appeared distant from voters, yet as a serious contender for the presidency, coders noted.
PAUL / 9 PINS *
NEUTRAL: USAToday.com portrayed Ron Paul — as Newt Gingrich— in a neutral way, selecting neither “positive” nor “negative” images to illustrate stories relating to his candidacy.
- Only a single photo of Paul showed him smiling — and that was one of him and Gingrich that illustrated an article titled “Poll: Majority in GOP want Gingrich, Paul to drop out.”
- Four of the nine pinned photos showed Paul with one or more of the other candidates — either on stage at a debate or in a set of split screens — and five showed Paul alone. (One of those five did have a single face in the background.) The lack of a visible audience or supporters (or even staffers) gave the overall impression, coders noted, that Paul was isolated from the electorate.
2012 Primary Election Coverage
USAToday.com’s 2012 coverage of the Republican primaries and the general election highlighted the “big” news of the elections, including the primaries themselves, the debates and the tracking polls, and followed the candidates as they travelled to different states to campaign. As is its mandate and competitive advantage, USA Today’s coverage touched on news across the nation for its geographically diverse readership.
The first week of research for the general election was conducted using the old format of USAToday.com. The second and third weeks of research were conducted using the new, relaunched site. The content of the sites were the same, but the sizes of pictures changed with the new design.
PINTEREST: USAToday.com functioned appropriately with Pinterest; when clicked, photos “pinned” to Pinterest boards, and navigated back to the story associated with that photograph. All photos on the news site were available to be “pinned,” including small image thumbnails, but, as was true for other sites, videos could not be pinned. There were very few slideshows, if any, on USAToday.com, so none of those were of concern when it came to how well Pinterest was able to grasp those images into its Pin It function.
CONTEXT: USA Today was founded by Al Neuharth to provide a general-interest national newspaper in the US market. First published on September 15, 1982, it appears Monday through Friday with a weekly USA Weekend edition. Initially parodied as “McPaper” because of its short articles illustrated with color photos and graphics, the paper now has the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States. Owned by the Gannett Company, a publicly-traded media holding company, USA Today is headquartered outside of Washington, DC, in Fairfax County, Virginia.