As the campaign for president wound down, a survey of coverage by the big three TV networks revealed that the issues were practically ignored as the networks instead focused on the purported controversies and personalities of the candidates.
The survey, conducted by Andrew Tyndall just before the election, found that coverage of issues was sparse, indeed. The review shows that since 1988, issues coverage was rarely less than 114 minutes and was usually over 200 minutes of air time on the three networks combined. But for the 2016 campaign the nets had given the issues a scant 32 minutes of air time two weeks before Election Day.
Instead of reports on guns, health care policy, terrorism prevention plans, security, economics and the like, the networks centered their reports on fitness for office, honesty, trustworthiness, controversies, stamina, the candidates’ health, and other such issues.
“With just two weeks to go,” Tyndall wrote on October 25, “issues coverage this year has been virtually non-existent. Of the 32 minutes total, terrorism (17 mins) and foreign policy (7 mins) towards the Middle East (Israel-ISIS-Syria-Iraq) have attracted some attention. Gay rights, immigration and policing have been mentioned in passing.”
“No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits,” he added. “To the extent that these issues have been mentioned, it has been on the candidates’ terms, not on the networks’ initiative.”
Tyndall had reviewed the campaign seasons going back to 1988 and found that the issues took a much more prominent place in TV coverage.
In 1988 reports on the issues took a combined 117 minutes of air time over ABC, NBC, and CBS, Tyndall found. In the years after the breakdown added up to 210 minutes in 1992; 98 minutes in 1996; 130 minutes in 2000; 203 minutes in 2004; 220 minutes in 2008 and 114 minutes in 2016.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.