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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

2016 Provides Ultimate Test of Quantity vs. Quality in Media Coverage

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has banked a lot on the old saw that “any publicity is good publicity.” That may be true when selling widgets to suggestable consumers. But Geoffrey Skelley has put the notion to the test in his Crystal Ball post “The Danger of the Political Limelight,” and the results suggest otherwise, at least when one of the candidates is named Donald Trump. Skelley explains:

…Using Gallup data for the question “Did you read, hear, or see anything about Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump in the last day or two?” and comparative Google Trend data for the search terms “Hillary Clinton” and “Donald Trump” in the United States, it really does appear that the candidate receiving more attention tends to struggle more.

Probing “the correlation between the polls and the Gallup data as well as the correlation between the polls and the Google Trends data,” Skelley explains that “First, we compared the Gallup data to the polling averages from HuffPost Pollster and RealClearPolitics, taking the percentage of respondents each day for Gallup who said they read, heard, or saw something about Trump and subtracting the percentage who said the same about Clinton. Then we compared the Trump margin in Gallup’s data to Trump’s margin in the polling averages. It should be noted that, on average, Trump has had slightly more net attention than Clinton by a five percentage point margin in Gallup’s measure…” In addition,

…Each candidate received gobs of attention during their party conventions, which complicates any analysis. So if we look at time periods after the convention, it’s easier to sort out who is going through spells of greater or lesser attention from the public. For the period from Aug. 1 (the Democratic convention ended on July 28) to now, the correlation is moderately strong — just above .5 — for all four polling averages. During this time, when one of the nominees has garnered notably more attention, always for negative revelations, that candidate has suffered…

Also, “Clinton and Trump have the highest unfavorable ratings of any major party nominees in modern history, notes Skelley. “Thus, when one has been in the news a good deal more than the other, it has usually been because of negative stories (outside of some convention coverage).”

Noting that “modern media coverage, especially in the Trump-Clinton contest, tends to be fairly negative,” Skelley concludes that “there is sufficient evidence to say that the 2016 presidential election has two highly disliked major party nominees who seem to perform worse the more attention they attract.”

Three weeks out, Clinton seems to be holding a lead in the polling average of about 5 points. And, while the horserace polls have shifted subtly with the media’s focus on the troubles of one presidential candidate over the other, it appears that Trump’s media coverage has been significantly more damaging overall. This may not apply quite as well to future presidential campaigns. But it looks like Trump is proving that the “any publicity is good publicity” notion is a bad premise for media strategy in politics.

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