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Iowa Senate Race 2014-Data Picks Winner

Assessing the Media Impact of Iowa’s Senate Candidates: Braley Wins the Media Battle

The fight for the Senate is raging, and many political analysts believe that Iowa is the most important battleground. Recent polling shows that Republican Joni Ernst has a slight edge over Democrat Bruce Braley, although it is believed that Braley still has a chance.

At Universal Information Services, we believe media analysis also has predictive power, and that a strong media impact can correlate with political (and business) success.

Knowing that broadcast and web outlets present news differently, we decided to analyze the candidates’ radio, broadcast and web media impact to see if there is any correlation between what the polls say and the candidates’ media presence. To that end, we analyzed 100 recent stories from Iowa outlets for each candidate and assessed them based on publication size, tone, and key messaging (for our complete impact score methodology, see our white paper here).

We found that Ernst had more key messaging in the media than Braley but was covered more negatively, especially in regard to issues such as the raising of the minimum wage and social security. Braley had a larger overall media impact than Ernst, which leads us to believe he still has a strong shot at winning.

We calculated tone scores by media type for each candidate using a graded scale for positive, negative and neutral articles with “10” being the highest possible score. Looking at overall tone, Braley had a larger number of both positive and neutral articles than Ernst, and also had less negative coverage overall – a key factor in Braley’s overall impact.

Number of Stories by Tone, Universal Information Services

The candidates had also clear separation by media type. Ernst proved to be a more polarizing figure than Bradley – she had a “higher high” and a “lower low.” Broadcast coverage of Joni Ernst trended the most positive of any media segment and focused on her endorsement by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Web coverage of Ernst, however, was harsh, and was the only dataset that had a favorability score below “0”. Iowa-based web outlets widely covered criticism of Ernst, citing her having missed “many floor votes” as a state senator, and for a conflict of interest complaint brought against her by the liberal group American Democracy Legal Fund.

Average Tone Points by Candidate, Universal Information Services

Braley had less positive broadcast coverage but trended more favorably on the web. Broadcast outlets negatively focused on Braley’s attack ads and consistent trailing of Ernst in the polls. Positive sentiment on the web stemmed from Braley’s discussion of issues such as minimum wage and social security – a letter to the editor in the Iowa Press-Citizen stated that “If you want to preserve Social Security and Medicare in their very successful form there is only one candidate for the U.S. Senate in Iowa…Bruce Braley.” Braley was also recently endorsed by the Des Moines Register, which received pickup around the state.

We found the extent to which Ernst “won” broadcast and Braley “won” web coverage interesting, as the data suggests trends that are in line with stereotypes that conservatives dominate talk radio and the local news, while liberals fare better on newer communication channels.

Key Messaging
If Braley “won” tone, then Ernst “wins” key messaging, outgaining her opponent on every issue except minimum wage and emissions trading. She even seemed to outperform Braley on traditionally liberal issues such as climate change (most of her comments on the subject expressed skepticism of man-made effects and concentrated on cyclic changes in weather as reasons behind global warming). Articles mentioning Ernst in conjunction with social security focused on her denying wanting to privatize the program.

Key Messaging by Candidate, Universal Information Services

Both candidates debated the minimum wage at Simpson College in Indianola, IA, in September. The media focused on Braley supporting raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour while Ernst stated that Iowa’s wage should not be raised beyond its current rate of $7.25.

Overall, Ernst had 170 key message points while Braley had 120, meaning that articles mentioning Ernst also tended to mention slightly more key issues.

Key Message Points by Candidate, Universal Information Services

Overall Impact
Joni Ernst edged out Bruce Braley in terms of radio and television impact, but Braley had a larger impact on the web. Adding the two scores together, we found that Braley had a higher media impact overall than Ernst.

Total Impact by Candidate, Universal Information Services

What caused Braley to have a higher impact?

The data suggests that Braley had an overall because of tone – Braley had a higher number of positive and neutral mentions and less negative mentions than Ernst, even though articles mentioning Ernst tended to mention more issues. Many of the articles that did feature issues in conjunction with Ernst were critical of her positions. For example, an opinion piece in the Iowa State Daily on October 3 criticized her positions on climate change, minimum wage, and Medicare, saying many of Ernst’s statements “give the impression that either she doesn’t know what her position is on the given issue or she is completely out of touch on them.” Joni Ernst scored points for issues, but the way those issues were covered ended up detracting from her overall media impact.

While Braley also faced criticism, it was less about his understanding or positions on the issues and more about his attack ads and for missing hearings of the House Veterans Committee. Although his key messaging wasn’t as loud as Ernst’s, it seems that it was more able to penetrate through the noise and emerge unscathed, leading to a larger Impact.

The results also correlate with recent findings by the Washington Post, which posits that once Ernst’s positions “were fully aired out,” Braley would lead – but that hasn’t been the case.

Certainly the media impact doesn’t account for everything in a political contest, but in the run up to November 4th, it will be interesting to see if Braley’s higher impact translates to a surprise victory.

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