The 2020 State of the Election

September 9, 2020 Seth Gilpin

Cision 2020 State of the Election

Part II: National and Local Coverage of Key Voter Issues

“The media doesn’t tell you what to think, but it tells you what to think about.” 

Maxwell McCombs and Donald’s Shaw Agenda-setting theory has stuck with me from my college days. Before that communications theory class, I never really thought about the media’s responsibility– and the power it has– to set, prime, and frame the public agenda.  

In last week’s State of the Election analysis, we at Cision extracted the key messages from Biden and Trump’s Democratic and Republican Convention speeches and benchmarked them against the most important issues of the 2020 election, as defined by Pew Research.  

This week, we are going to spotlight a handful of those key issues to uncover how the media is covering them, nationally and locally. 

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  • The economy and healthcare are always-on topics and generate the most consistent coverage, month after month.
  • COVID-19 has generated the most total coverage with 3.2M articles. Not surprisingly the coverage peaked at the height of the pandemic and garnered 60% of the total coverage in March. 
  • Racial inequality did not become a major topic until the murder of George Floyd at the end of May. 
  • Gun policy, one of the most divisive issues in the country, received the least amount of coverage.

While it’s interesting to see how media narratives change over time, it’s also important to know how the media is covering those topics today— especially as we inch closer to the election. Additionally, it’s important to look beyond the number of mentions to assess how the media is framing these key issues. 

For example, when it comes to reading about the economy, an article about Wall Street’s record-breaking August tells a different story than an article about the record breaking budget deficit.  

Cision State of the Election 2020 Key Messages

An overwhelming amount of economic-related coverage paints a gloomy picture. In the past 30 days, 2.7x more stories were published about economic pressures– unemployment, recession, and bankruptcy– than economic optimism such as stock market highs, job creation, and economic growth. 

When it comes to healthcare– the second most important issue for voters– another theme emerged. The media consistently covers challenges many Americans face, including high healthcare costs and pre-existing conditions. The Affordable Care Act, which was enacted more than a decade ago, continues to garner significant coverage. Messages like “repeal and replace” and abortion did not rank among the top healthcare stories. 

Note: Due to small amounts of coverage, I skipped over third issue of the supreme court.  

The coronavirus pandemic, which is the fourth most important issue for voters has received the most media attention. An astounding 4,400 articles a day were published in the past month that talked about infection rates and death counts. While it’s certainly good, transparent reporting and keeps citizens informed, audiences are definitely experiencing coronavirus fatigue. And the media is scaling back their coverage.  

But what about local coverage? 

It’s no secret, the keys to the white house are in the hands of voters from a handful of states. It’s also true that more Americans place trust in their local news than national news. Local media will play an important role in swinging undecided voters left or right. We are going to look at media coverage as it relates to key issues in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.  

Cision data 2020 election

In the past 30 days, swing state coverage of key issues is closely aligned with the national narrative. There was no more than a 2% discrepancy than the national share of voice. However, broken down by state, a few things caught our eye: 

  • Economic news was covered most in every swing state but Georgia and Wisconsin, which covered COVID-19 more frequently; the economy and COVID-19 ranked #1 and #2 in every state. 
  • Healthcare out-performed climate change and/or racial inequality news in Arizona, Florida, and Michigan.  
  • In Michigan, healthcare received 17% of the coverage – 5% more than all swing states and 7% more than the national average.  
  • Climate change experienced a large spike during Hurricane Laura and total mentions has declined 82% in the past 7 days. 

Here are presidential election focused press releases distributed by Cision PR Newswire from the past week: 

To read all election news, visit this link.

Want to follow your industry as carefully as we’re following this election? 

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Cision is politically unaffiliated and does not endorse any political parties, platforms, campaigns or candidates. If you have questions, reach out to us

Cision Election 2020 Dashboard

About the Author

Seth Gilpin

Seth Gilpin is a Senior Product Marketing Specialist for Cision where he blends his passion for storytelling with the science of data. Connect with him on Twitter: @sethgilpn

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