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Issues Get 10% of Campaign Evening-News Hole in Early Going

From January-May 2007, only 10% of the 2008-presidential-campaign stories on the network evening newscasts were about issues, while 86% were about the horse race, strategy aspects or personal issues on the candidates like health, marriage and religion.

And the tone of the coverage was more favorable to Democrats than Republicans, although much of that came from the difference between the very positive coverage of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and the very negative coverage of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

That's according to a new poll by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, which examined coverage on 48 media outlets.

In the 154 stories across three networks, Democrats got more coverage (49%) than Republicans, reflecting the star power of the matchup between former first lady Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Obama. But among the networks, NBC stood out for the relative balance of the number of stories it wrote about Democratic and Republican contenders.

While ABC and CBS gave roughly 30% more time to stories about Democrats, NBC had only 11% more stories about Democrats.

The tone of coverage of all three evening newscasts was "much more positive" toward Democrats, the study concluded, with Obama getting the most positive mentions and McCain getting the highest negatives. None of the 11 stories primarily about McCain were clearly positive and six were clearly negative.

In contrast to the evening news, cable coverage of Republicans on the top three cable news networks was as likely to be positive as negative, helped by Fox News Channel’s coverage, with 32% of its stories on Republicans positive and 21% negative, while for Democrats, 37% of the stories tended to be negative and 24% positive. But in both cases the majority of the stories were neutral, and the study found that "[Fox News Channel] was uniformly positive about Republicans or negative about Democrats is not manifest in the data."

CNN, by contrast, tended to "cast a negative light on Republican candidates by a margin of 3-1," according to the study. The study said they were not that much nicer to Democrats, with the exception of Obama, with both Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) getting more negative stories than positive.

And by contrast yet again, MSNBC was found to be more positive than negative to candidates from both parties, although even on that network, McCain had more negatives than positives.