The Battleground States

The press was quick to recognize the crucial importance of key battleground states in deciding the election. News organizations covered key states early and revisited them often. While predictably framed around political internals such as tactics and strategy, (47% of the time) there was also a great deal of focus on broad issues such as the state of the electorate (24%). Only 1% of battleground stories, or two stories in all, mostly considered policy differences between the candidates and not a single story looked mostly at where the candidate would take that particular state or the country.

In addition, these stories were much more evenly divided between Bush (29%) and Gore (26%). Again, these stories were most often initiated by the press (55%), and were highly analytical.

More than any theme studied other than momentum stories, these battleground stories were written in a way that impacted politicians (77%). Only 21% dealt with matters impacting citizens in those states, with 18% specially focusing on one state or demographic group and 3% focusing on citizens in general.

Campaign Strategies

The third most common theme, accounting for 12% of stories, was the strategies inside each of the two campaigns, such as reaching undecided voters or campaign advertising. Nearly half of it (48%) occurred in the first week of the study.

Interestingly, through most of October and late September, it was Gore strategy, not Bush, that attracted the press. More than four-in-ten (44%) of these stories concerned Al Gore and his campaign, compared with only slightly more than two-in-ten (24%) about George Bush. Those numbers might have been different earlier in September, when Bush's campaign was perceived to be in disarray.

Momentum & Medium

The momentum and media treatment of the candidates was the fourth most common story theme in October, again ahead of any policy or character theme. These stories were more likely to touch on broad themes about the nature of politics and the press. They were nine times as likely as the average story to consider the nature of the press (18% versus 2% overall) and were twice as likely written around the nature of politics (7% versus 4%).