Friday, June 3, 2016

Media Analysis: Clinton vs. Trump

(Dsk/AFP/Getty Images)
One is a media carnivore who hasn’t hesitated to bash the press while simultaneously benefiting from its devoted attention. The other is cautious and wary of the people who cover her — a legacy, perhaps, of nearly a quarter­century of bruising run-ins with the media.

A general election matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which seems all but inevitable, presents two highly contrasting figures, not just on the issues but in their approach to the media that covers them. Each has long been in the media glare — they are among the most-reported people ever to represent their parties — and each has a lengthy rap sheet of “narratives” that both hurt and help them.

Now, after nearly a year of campaigning, some impactful questions need to be asked: How have Clinton and Trump been reported on by the media? What factors suggest explanations for why they might be covered the way they are?

So that I could more objectively conclude the answers to these questions, I analyzed recent Twitter activity surrounding both candidates. What I found is both shocking and telling.

(Note: Please keep in mind that I am not attempting to endorse either candidate or political party. This post is solely meant to communicate the findings of my Twitter analysis.)

Using NUVI software, I looked at the most recent 2,000 tweets — or 260,000 characters — directed at and from both Clinton and Trump (one of NUVI’s functions is to act as a sentiment analysis; a tool that uses natural language processing to determine if a statement is negative, neutral or positive).

I decided to use Twitter for this analysis as major news outlets tend to push and disseminate their content using this channel. So, I was not only able to analyze what the media was saying about both candidates, I was also easily able to analyze how both candidates responded. In essence, I didn’t just look at isolated, one-way communication, I was able to analyze dialogue that continues to evolve and shape the political landscape.

(Note: While Trump operates his own Twitter account, Clinton primarily uses a social media team — but for the purposes of this analysis, I assumed everything on @HillaryClinton to reflect Clinton's own opinion and voice.)

What were the results of this analysis, you ask?

I found that the overall message sentiment directed at both candidates was, respectively:
(Trump) 45 percent negative, 27 percent neutral and 28 percent positive
(Clinton) 23 percent negative, 39 percent neutral and 38 percent positive

In retaliation/response/whatever you’d like to call it, 60 percent of Trumps top-used adjectives were negative in sentiment. In contrast, 20 percent of Clinton’s top-used adjectives were negative in sentiment.

While correlation does not prove causation, I further hypothesis that it is because of Trump’s initial negative (and outrageous) tone that he receives such a high degree of negative media coverage. Because, let’s be real, to him, right now, no news is bad news. Trump has so overwhelmingly captured the media’s attention that negative coverage is having little negative effect on him (in fact, many argue that it is having a positive effect).

Fox News reporter Howard Kurtz offered a possible explanation for this, writing, "Trump is a media master who knows how to keep stoking a story by doubling and tripling and quadrupling down. And the press is now happy to play along for ratings and clicks, turning the campaign coverage into The Daily Donald."

The reporting on Trump has focused mostly on his character, his controversial comments on a variety of issues and what he has done on the campaign trail (his feuds with members of the media and feuds with other presidential candidates), rather than in-depth analysis of his policy positions. This may be because Trump does not deliver detailed policy speeches, preferring to speak in "broad strokes" about his views. He said, "I don’t think the voters care about specifics. I think the press cares, but I’ve never had a voter ask for my policy papers."

Another possible reason for the lack of issue coverage is because Trump does not have a voting record or policy platform from a previous political position, his media coverage has been different from other candidates who have held political office. In the absence of a voting record, the media has focused on comments Trump has made, both before and after he declared his candidacy. He has received significant criticism from the media for lacking in substance and for his inability to articulately answer questions about important issues concerning national security, foreign relations, immigration and job creation.

On the other side of the aisle, even though the media has reported extensively on the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email account and server, her "flip-flops" on issues, and her perceived lack of authenticity and trustworthiness, there is a consensus in the media that she will be the Democratic nominee despite all of these problems.

Clinton still maintains a significant lead in national polls over Bernie Sanders, and according to a Rasmussen poll, 59 percent of likely U.S. voters believe that the media is not biased against her. In addition, "a plurality (44 percent) of voters in Clinton’s own party says the media is not biased against her." Considering the public's support for Clinton's presidency and the belief that she has been treated fairly by the media, it does not seem that what has been said about her has done much to negatively impact voters' opinions of her. For now, it seems that the media, and Clinton herself, can do little to influence how voters perceive the Democratic frontrunner for president.

In conclusion, Trump has remained laser-focused on the media, and has been handsomely rewarded for it: The New York Times estimates he has collected more than $2 billion in free press. While, Clinton, who "hates the press," has deferred to ignore reporters and botched attempts at damage control.

Neither of these strategies has won popularity: Both Trump and Clinton boast a rather dismal unfavorability rating of 57 percent.

But in the Twitter arena — and soon, on a much bigger stage — their worlds will continue to clash awkwardly. And, more likely than not, one will be our next president.

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