Racial Framing in Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Election
34 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 17 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
In the spring of 2008 it became clear that Barack Obama would be the first African-American to receive the nomination of a major political party. For the first time ever, an African-American holding the nation’s highest office became a real possibility. How did the media deal with this historic candidacy? What role, if any, did racial themes play in media coverage of the 2008 presidential election? In order to answer this question, this paper presents the results of a systematic content analysis of New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today campaign coverage during the fall campaign. We examined substantive campaign coverage, coding for a number of potential racial references or frames. We find, not surprisingly, that racial references were present in the general election coverage. Most often, we found references to Obama’s own race or the race of groups within the electorate. References to racism or the potential for racial animosity to continue to play a role in the campaign were also present, though less common. Although we cannot test the effects of this coverage, we suggest that references to race which occur throughout the fall campaign have the potential to prime racial considerations. This paper represents the first part of a larger project in which we also examine print coverage in four battleground states as well as broadcast coverage on nightly network news.
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