Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Parsing Election Day Media – How the Midterms Message Varied by Platform

About this Study

A number of members of the PEJ staff assisted in the production of this report, “Parsing Election Day Media.” Staffers who made substantial contributions were: research analyst Kenny Olmstead, weekly News Index manager Tricia Sartor, senior researcher Paul Hitlin, associate director Mark Jurkowitz, deputy director Amy Mitchell and director Tom Rosenstiel.



To study the television coverage of election night, PEJ searched for how often common terms were used on the three major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the three most popular cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC).

The election night programming was recorded using a Direct TV satellite connection onto a Snapstream Server in PEJ’s Washington, D.C. office. Only national programming was considered. Local segments were ignored for this story.

In addition to recording the video and audio of a program, the Snapstream server also records the closed-captioning text of each show. While closed-captioning is created in real-time and can occasionally include typos, it is an effective way to get a transcript of live programming. Using Snapstream’s search capability of the close-captioning text, PEJ counted the number of times each keyword appeared on each station.

For the cable channels, their entire election night programming from 6 p.m. ET to 2 a.m. ET was included in this study. For the three networks, any national programming appearing after 9 p.m. ET but before 2 a.m. ET was included. ABC and CBS each produced approximately 2 hours of national election coverage during that time, while NBC produced approximately 4 hours.

Blogs and Twitter

For the study of Blogs and Twitter PEJ used software provided by Crimson Hexagon. Crimson Hexagon’s software analyzes the conversation online from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Forums and mainstream news sources.  According to Crimson Hexagon: “Our technology analyzes the entire social internet (blog posts, forum messages, Tweets, etc.) by identifying statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics.”

Information on the tool itself can be found at and the in depth methodologies can be found here The time frame for the analysis is November 2nd, 2010 and November 3rd, 2010.  For the analysis of both blogs and Twitter PEJ first had to narrow the universe to just the election and the following list of keywords was used in a Boolean search:

(election OR elections OR campaign OR campaigns OR republican OR republicans OR GOP OR democrat OR democrats OR democratic OR Senate OR “Tea Party” OR “tea parties” OR congress OR governor OR governors OR representative OR representatives OR obama OR vote OR voting OR voters OR voter)

In Blogs PEJ also removed posts from Facebook so the sample was only blog posts and not Facebook status updates, which are more similar to Twitter in character.

Newspaper Headlines

The sample  of November 3 newspaper headlines was derived  from the “Today’s Front Pages” section of the Newseum website, which publishes the front pages of newspapers from across the U.S. and more than 70 foreign countries.  This sample included headlines from U.S. newspapers that reflected the national election results or a combined message from both national and state or local races.

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