News coverage of Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump took a drastic turn towards the negative after all other Republican challengers left the race, according to a new study released by Harvard University Tuesday, proving Trump’s accusations that the media turned negative true.
The media is really on a witch-hunt against me. False reporting, and plenty of it – but we will prevail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
“The tone of Trump’s press coverage during the last month of the primaries was negative,” study author Thomas Patterson wrote in his findings. “The mostly favorable coverage he had received earlier in the primary season had turned sharply downward.”
“Trump’s coverage was more negative than that of any other victorious candidate of either party at any stage of the primaries,” Patterson added. No matter what month of the primary, Trump dominated coverage with a huge lead. Throughout the primary, Trump reached up to 56 percent of all news stories, with up to 57 percent of those stories carrying positive coverage.
During the last month of the primary saw a sharp rise in negative stories, up from 30 percent negative at the height of his popularity in the primary to 61 percent. Trump was the only candidate in either the Democratic or Republican primary to enjoy positive news stories greater than 50 percent.
Patterson credits the large amounts of positive coverage with an emphasis on “horse-race” coverage. Horse-race coverage focuses on the day to day campaign results of polls. Since Trump did well in the polls during the primary, the vast majority of those types of stories would result in positive coverage. 71 percent of the stories mentioning Trump during the primary included a horse-race style analysis, with only 11 percent of coverage including “issues.”
Towards the end of the primary process, the competitive inference was replaced with more coverage of the issues, according to the study. Patterson noted that although the Democratic primary continued after Trump had eliminated all challengers, Trump still dominated the news cycle. Patterson asserts that a “journalistic bias” is the reason for the continued coverage.
“Reporters are attracted to the new, the unusual, the sensational, the outrageous—the type of story material that can catch and hold an audience’s attention. Trump fit that interest as has no other candidate in recent memory,” Patterson wrote. Patterson went on to credit this journalistic bias for Trump’s ascendancy to the nomination, saying that the breathless coverage of Trump resulted in the public giving him more of a consideration than if he did not receive as much coverage as he did.
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