Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Voters Impressed with Campaign

But News Coverage Gets Lukewarm Ratings

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Summary of Findings

Voters express increasingly positive opinions of the 2004 presidential campaign. Virtually all voters ­ 96% ­ believe the campaign is important, while a growing number also view the campaign as interesting. Fully two-thirds of voters (66%) describe the campaign as interesting, up from 50% in early September and just 35% in June.

Moreover, increasing numbers of voters also perceive the campaign as informative and easy to follow. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say the election has been informative, up from 63% last month. By seven-to-one (84%-12%), voters say the race has been easy to follow, rather than hard to follow.

The generally favorable assessments of the campaign do not extend to the news media’s coverage of the race. A narrow majority (54%) rates the coverage as good or excellent, up a bit from the 47% who gave campaign coverage a positive rating in June. But larger numbers of voters than four years ago think that coverage has been unfair to both campaigns. Further, as in recent presidential campaigns, many voters believe that journalists hope the Democratic nominee will win, and that they often let their own political preferences influence the way they cover the news.

Half of voters (50%) say most newspaper and TV reporters would prefer to see John Kerry win the election, compared with just 22% who think that most journalists are pulling for George Bush. That is comparable to findings at about this stage in previous campaigns; in October 2000, 47% of voters felt that journalists wanted to see Al Gore win. In addition, a majority of voters (58%) continue to think that members of the news media often let their own political preferences influence their reporting.

While most voters rate the press coverage of the Bush and Kerry campaigns as fair, an increasing number view the coverage of both campaigns as unfair. Nearly four-in-ten voters (37%) think news coverage of Bush’s campaign has been unfair, compared with 25% in October 2000. Similarly, 27% think coverage of Kerry’s campaign is unfair, nearly double the number who said that about news coverage of Gore’s campaign four years ago (15%).

The latest Pew Research Center survey of 1,307 registered voters, conducted Oct. 15-19, shows that there also is a pervasive belief that news organizations wield too much influence on the election’s outcome. Nearly six-in-ten (62%) say news organizations have too much influence in determining the election’s outcome; only about half that number (32%) feel that the media’s influence is appropriate.

Swing Voters Unhappy With Choices

A solid majority of voters (66%) say they are very or fairly satisfied with their choice of candidates this year, but swing voters are less enthusiastic over the choices. Just 35% of swing voters say they are satisfied with the field of presidential candidates. By contrast, 77% of committed Bush voters, and nearly as many certain Kerry voters (69%), express satisfaction with the candidates.

Similarly, swing voters give both candidates the same middling grades for their persuasive abilities. Roughly four-in-ten swing voters (39%) give Bush a grade of A or B for convincing them to vote for him; about the same number (38%) give Kerry a grade of A or B. Committed Bush and Kerry voters give their own candidates high marks, while giving low marks to the opponent.

For the most part, however, swing voters express the same generally positive opinions of the campaign as voters who have already committed to a candidate. But far more swing voters than committed voters view the campaign as dull. Only about half of swing voters (51%) believe the campaign is interesting while almost as many (42%) think it is dull. By wide margins, certain Bush and Kerry voters find the campaign interesting.

More See Campaign Coverage as Unfair

Overall, 37% of voters believe press coverage of Bush has been unfair, up from 25% at about this stage four years ago. Far more Republicans than Democrats say Bush coverage has been unfair, but the perception that the press has not been fair to Bush has increased across the board, particularly among independents. Fully 40% of independent voters view coverage of Bush’s campaign as unfair, about twice the number who expressed that view in October 2000 (19%).

Somewhat fewer voters (27%) think news organizations have been unfair to Kerry’s campaign than say that about Bush. But that is nearly double the number who thought Al Gore’s campaign was not treated fairly in October 2000 (15%). As is the case with assessments of coverage of Bush, the perception that the press has not treated the Democratic nominee fairly has grown among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

News Audiences Differ Over Coverage

Opinions of campaign news coverage have long been divided along partisan lines, with Republicans generally expressing a more critical view of the coverage. With the increasing politicization of news audiences ­ as seen in several recent Pew Research Center surveys ­ attitudes toward the coverage also differ markedly depending on where voters get their news.

While a narrow majority of all voters (54%) have a positive view of campaign coverage, voters who get most of their election news from the Fox News Channel are more critical of the coverage than are voters who rely on other sources for news about the election. Fewer than half of voters who get most of their election news from Fox (46%) rate the overall media coverage as good or excellent; that compares with 64% of voters who go to CNN for election news and comparable proportions of those who rely on network news (63%), newspapers (61%) or local TV (58%).

In addition, about seven-in-ten voters who get most of their election news from Fox (72%) say news organizations have too much influence over which candidate becomes president. Smaller majorities of voters who turn to other sources for election news believe that news organizations have too much influence over the election outcome.

Different Sources, Different Choices

Earlier this month, Pew found that the voting intentions of the election news audience were deeply divided according to where voters got their news. The current survey shows that gap remains substantial, with a large majority of the Fox News audience supporting President Bush and a comparable share of the CNN audience favoring Sen. Kerry.

Seven-in-ten voters who get most of their election news from Fox News support Bush, while just 21% back Kerry. By contrast, voters who get most of their election news from CNN favor Kerry over Bush, by 67%-26%.

Other news audiences are more closely divided. Kerry has a modest advantage among voters who mostly rely on network news and newspapers. Voters who get most of their election news from local TV are split, with 46% supporting Kerry and 42% Bush.

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