Mount Professor’s New Book Examines Influence of Polls on Presidential Election News Coverage
Riverdale, N.Y. – Associate Professor of Communication Vincent Fitzgerald has published The Influence of Polls on Television News Coverage of Presidential Campaigns through Lexington Books, a division of Rowman & Littlefield. Dr. Fitzgerald’s book examines the role that public opinion polls have played in presidential campaign news coverage from 1968 to 2016 on the evening newscasts of three major broadcast television networks.
“Research for this book was very detailed and conducted over a number of years,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “To collect data, I obtained and viewed video of television news coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC from the past 13 general election presidential campaigns. Some of the coverage was mundane, some was unusual, some was informative, and some was uninformative, but it allowed me to present a picture of how the major broadcast news outlets have presented the future leaders of the nation on a daily basis over a 50 year period.”
Dr. Fitzgerald’s data shows that the use of polls by television news has not only increased dramatically over the past half-century, but that the time spent reporting on and discussing them has coincided with a precipitous decrease in the amount of coverage devoted to issues of substance and the candidates’ positions.
In 1968, for every one minute of coverage spent discussing polls, the networks devoted nearly four minutes of coverage to the issues. By 1996, for every one minute of poll coverage there was just one minute and 30 seconds of issue coverage. By 2016, for every one minute of poll coverage there was just 42 seconds of issue coverage. And during the final two weeks of the 2016 campaign the amount of time spent discussing polls was more than six times greater than the amount of time spent reporting on issues, which accounted for just three percent of all network news coverage prior to Election Day.
The Influence of Polls on Television News Coverage of Presidential Campaigns also demonstrates the shift made by networks to focus on the competitive aspects of campaigns.
“Because of this tendency to rely more on poll reports than issues, the contest has become paramount and reporting on serious national and international issues has been minimized. As such, major party candidates are portrayed increasingly less like potential leaders of the free world and more like athletes who are winning or losing a ballgame.”
The book argues that the growing reliance on polls and the focus on which candidates are leading or trailing has had a negative impact on the networks’ campaign coverage. As candidates are prematurely labeled as either winners or losers, the types of questions asked of them by reporters and the overall coverage they receive is altered.
“Journalism is a difficult but honorable profession and is filled with many intelligent, well-intentioned people,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “However, for the sake of American democracy, television news can and must do a better job in campaign coverage. This book is more of a challenge to the network news divisions rather than just a criticism.”
About the College of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the College of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary for lives of achievement, professional accomplishment and leadership in the 21st century.