Bush and Gore received roughly the same amount of coverage, with Bush dominating 24% of the stories and Gore 29%. Another 47% were equally about both candidates. This was true across print, television and the Internet.
But the parity ends quickly. As we found in two of the earlier studies, Bush continues to benefit more than Gore from press coverage. As outlined above, 24% of Bush stories were positive, nearly double the 13% for Gore.
In contrast, the coverage of Gore was more negative. A full 56% of the Gore stories had a negative tone, compared to 49% for Bush. The remaining stories were neutral.
Stories that focused equally on both candidates were more neutral in tone, but the critical treatment of Gore still emerged. Twelve percent were negative toward Gore, while only 8% more were negative toward Bush.
In addition, while the numbers are small, Bush was twice as likely to enjoy positive coverage in these comparative stories, 7% versus 3% for Gore.
These findings are consistent with patterns we found earlier in the campaign. In a study of primary coverage leading up to the conventions, we found the press far more likely to cover the subjects Bush wanted to run on-such as the idea that he was a different kind of Republican-than it was to cover the subjects that Gore wanted to run on-such as his knowledge and experience.
There were differences this time too in the major themes devoted to each candidate.
Bush stories were more likely to be issue related (37% versus only 28% for Gore.)
Gore stories were more likely to be about the internal politics of his campaign—such as strategies for winning the battleground states. In all, 50% of Gore stories were political matters versus 44% for Bush. Given that Gore was failing to pull ahead, these stories were not particularly helpful to the Vice President.
Specifically, three themes made up half of all the Bush stories: The battleground states (18%), his record and command of the facts (17%) and domestic issues other than health care & elderly and taxes (15%).
For Gore, on the other hand, the three most popular themes were all campaign related. Most, 18%, related to strategy, 15% were pre-and-post-debate analysis (compared with only 9% of Bush stories), and 14% focused on the battleground states.
The one issue that Gore seemed to dominate was health care & elderly, which made up about one-in-ten Gore stories (9%) compared to only one-in-thirty-three Bush stories. But as we will see later, coverage of health care & elderly was extremely negative in tone.
During the monitored time frames, the candidate's tax plans had clearly lost steam, at least in journalists' eyes. This theme made up only 4% of Bush stories and 3% of Gore stories.
As was true in a Committee study conducted on the eve of the conventions, Gore's coverage was more than twice as likely to be about his problems with the truth or with campaign fundraising (10%) than Bush's was to be about his record and lack of knowledge (4%).