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Assessing the Media Impact of Nebraska’s 2nd District House Race

Assessing the Media Impact of Nebraska’s 2nd District House Race
At Universal Information Services, we believe media analysis has predictive power, and that a strong media impact can correlate with political success.

As we did for Iowa Senate candidates, Universal Information Services conducted a study to determine the media impact of the candidates for the Omaha-based 2nd District seat in Congress. Lee Terry has served in Congress for 16 years and is facing a competitive challenger in veteran state senator Brad Ashford.

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 Nebraska outlets from the past 30 days 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, at least of the month of October, Nebraska’s Good Time Law dominated political discussion in the state. The race between Terry and Ashford has become a contest of messaging – Terry trying to connect Ashford to convicted murderer Nikko Jenkins, while Ashford responded that the tactic was the work of a politician desperately trying to deflect scrutiny from his record. The analysis revealed Terry was by and large successful with his messaging strategy, but underestimated how bad his story would be received by the public once it penetrated the mediasphere. The data indicates that Ashford will win as the public is turned off by Terry’s maneuverings.

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. We found similar results to the Iowa Senate race: Terry, the Republican candidate, had an average higher tone score than Ashford in TV and radio, while Ashford, the Democrat, was portrayed more favorably on the web. While both candidates had plenty of negative coverage, Ashford’s coverage trended more neutrally than Terry’s, resulting in a higher overall score.

Average Tone Points by Candidate, Universal Information Services

Radio was particularly kind to Terry – of 14 analyzed radio hits only one was negative while all others were neutral or positive. Ashford, by contrast, saw eleven negative stories in their broadcast dataset – all of them discussing the Good Time Law, and some of them mentioning Ashford as being soft on sex offenders. TV was another story- the majority of his negative mentions came from television. KMTV reported that the Omaha World-Herald endorsed Brad Ashford, and the network referred to Terry as an “underdog” in the race. While his overall broadcast favorability was higher than Ashford’s, it was still more negative-neutral than positive-neutral.

Web content sentiment, however, heavily favored Ashford. Positive coverage of the Omaha and Millard Education Associations and other groups backing Ashford saw more coverage online than in broadcast, but it was the dearth of negative articles and a glut of neutral ones that established his web tone score at a “5”out of 10 possible points.

Lee Terry’s web content by contrast dipped below zero thanks to negative coverage of his attack ads. The data suggests that Terry’s ads might backfire – a letter to the editor in the online version of Oct. 20 Lincoln Journal Star said that Terry’s attempts to Link Ashford to Jenkins were “absurd” and “desperate”.

Key Messaging

Nebraska’s “good time” law – which cuts prisoners’ time in prison for good behavior – dominated discussion of the race over the month of October. All other issues in the race, including discussion of Nebraska’s minimum wage, also on the ballot Nov. 4, receded into the background as Lee Terry’s campaign sought to link Ashford to convicted murderer Nikko Jenkins. Ashford’s campaign said the move represented a desperate ploy because “Terry doesn’t have a record of getting anything done.” Jenkins later mentioned Congressman Terry in an outburst in a courtroom appearance, calling him the “best Repbulican ever”, further driving coverage of the issue.

Looking at the other issues, Ashford’s dataset included more articles mentioning all other issues except sex offender registration.

Key Messaging, Universal Information Services

Overall Impact

Overall impact was similar to the Iowa Senate results – Terry, the Republican candidate, had a slightly higher media impact in broadcast media, while Ashford, the Democrat, had a higher web impact.

Total Impact by Candidate, Universal Information Services

Overall, Ashford’s media footprint resulted in a higher combined impact, thanks to both a higher tone and higher key messaging. The data suggests that Terry’s campaign has successfully turned the race into a discussion of Ashford’s record on crime, but the data also suggests that this message is not positively resonating with the public.

Neither candidate was viewed particularly positively, but Ashford was discussed less negatively. That should be enough to send him to Washington.


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