How much campaign coverage aired on the network news?

All five networks devoted a significant amount of time to election coverage and gave significantly more air time to the campaign than local stations did. In terms of the quantity of election coverage, Univision rivals and in some cases exceeds the English-language networks. Univision has long been the dominant Spanish-language network, often enjoying ratings at least three times larger than Telemundo. Because the amount of Univision’s political news was almost on a par with ABC, CBS and NBC, the vast majority of Spanish-language network news viewers got campaign coverage only slightly slimmer than consumers of English-language network news.

Total Election News Aired

NBC aired the most election coverage, just under four hours in total over the course of the study. Univision and ABC followed, each airing almost three-and-one-half hours of election news. Just under three hours of election news aired on CBS, and just under two hours aired on Telemundo.

Percentage of All News that Focused on Elections

An alternative way of looking at the amount of election coverage is as a percentage of the total amount of news each network aired. Using this measure, NBC again came out on top, with 31 percent of all of their evening news programming focused on elections. ABC and CBS were next, with election-focused coverage accounting for 26 and 25 percent of all news programming. Univision closely followed, with election-focused news accounting for 22 percent of their total news. Just 14 percent of the Telemundo news focused on elections.

Amount of Election News in a Typical Network Broadcast

Using these percentages it is possible to extrapolate how much of election coverage a viewer might have seen in a typical broadcast on each network. A viewer watching NBC network news could have seen just over nine minutes of election coverage. ABC and CBS viewers could have seen just over seven-and-a-half minutes of election focused news. Viewers of a typical Univision broadcast could have seen six-and-one-half minutes, while Telemundo viewers could have seen just over four minutes per broadcast.

Average Length of a Campaign Story

English-language stories were significantly longer than Spanish-language stories. An average story was just over three minutes long on NBC; two minutes 45 seconds on ABC; and about two-and-a-half minutes on CBS. By contrast, Univision stories averaged one minute 38 seconds, and Telemundo stories averaged one minute 26 seconds.

Total Number of Election Stories

While Spanish-language stories were generally shorter than English-language stories, there were more of them. Ninety-five percent of all Spanish-language network broadcasts contained at least one election story. Only 78 percent of the English-language network broadcasts contained an election story. Univision aired a total of 127 election related stories, a record far outpacing all other networks. Telemundo aired a total of 78 election stories, and NBC aired a total of 77. ABC followed, with 74 stories, while CBS aired 68 stories.

What type of coverage aired on the network news?

Election Focus

Not surprisingly, the presidential race dominated network coverage, accounting for just over eight in ten of all stories in both languages. Voting issues, which at the national level centered primarily on the potential for voting irregularities, accounted for 11 percent of the coverage on Spanish-language networks and 12 percent on English-language networks. Spanish-language networks gave somewhat more coverage to ballot and bond initiatives (four percent of all stories) than the English-language networks (one percent of all stories). These numbers were fairly consistent across all networks.

Issues vs. Strategy Coverage

The balance between issue and strategy/horserace stories varied significantly by network. NBC aired more issue stories (48 percent) than stories focusing on strategy or the horserace (38 percent). The split on the CBS network was exactly even, with 47 percent of their stories focusing on each. The balance on ABC and Univision was quite similar, with about 30 percent of each network’s campaign stories focused on issues, and about 45 percent on strategy or the horserace. Telemundo was the only network where strategy stories comprised more than 50 percent of their total; 19 percent of the Telemundo stories focused on campaign issues, the lowest of all five networks. Just one percent of the English-language network stories critiqued candidates’ advertising, and no stories on a Spanish-language network critiqued candidate ads.

Latino perspective

English-language networks virtually ignored Latino issues in their election coverage, as only five stories (two percent) mentioned or focused on them. Four of the five stories were primarily about Latino issues, and all four were aired on NBC, whose parent company, GE, also owns Telemundo. One ABC election story mentioned a Latino perspective before moving on to other topics.

By contrast, 45 percent of the Univision network stories, and 27 percent of Telemundo stories, mentioned or focused on Latino issues. Univision stories were somewhat more likely to discuss Latino issues than Telemundo stories. Seventeen percent of the Univision stories mentioned Latino issues, and 28 percent focused on Latino issues. Twelve percent of the Telemundo election stories mentioned Latino issues and 15 percent focused on them.

Non-election stories

Although the data are available for future research, non-election stories were not examined in detail. For this report, non-election stories were categorized by topic, and the amount of time given to each news topic was recorded. Analyzing time allotted to particular subjects allows for general comparisons of the news priorities of English- and Spanish-language networks.

The most significant difference in overall news content was that English-language networks gave substantially less time to world affairs, and somewhat more time to the Iraq War, than Spanish-language networks. World affairs covers news about these areas: American foreign policy, news of other countries (except Iraq); terrorism, foreign crises and news about immigration, trade and diplomacy. Four percent of English-language network news focused on world affairs, while 25 percent of Spanish-language network coverage focused on world affairs. Ten percent of the English-language coverage focused on the Iraq War, while just 2 percent of the Spanish-language coverage focused on the Iraq War. Converting these percentages into a typical half-hour of news means that a typical English-language network news program contained one minute 16 seconds of world affairs coverage and three minutes of Iraq War news. A typical Spanish-language broadcast contained almost seven-and-a-half minutes of world affairs and just 43 seconds of Iraq war coverage. Among English-language networks, CBS (which aired the least amount of election coverage) aired the most amount of world affairs and Iraq War coverage, with a typical CBS broadcast averaging just over one-and-a-half minutes of world affairs news and a little more than three minutes of Iraq war coverage. A typical NBC broadcast devoted one minute 16 seconds to world affairs and three minutes to the Iraq War. A typical ABC broadcast aired about one minute of world affairs coverage and just under three minutes of Iraq war coverage. Univision devoted the most time to world affairs. Twenty-seven percent of all Univision network news – on average, slightly more than eight minutes of every Univision broadcast – was devoted to world affairs. A typical Univision broadcast contained 46 seconds devoted to the Iraq war. A typical Telemundo broadcast contained six-and-one-half minutes of world affairs coverage and just 40 seconds of Iraq war coverage.

Perhaps as interesting as this major difference is how similar the breakdown was of other news topics across languages and networks. When looking across languages, there was only a one or two percentage point difference in the amount of coverage provided to news about government (non-election), health, crime, unintentional injury and business/economy. Similarly, only minor differences appear between individual networks when looking at these other news topics.