Spotlight Exclusives

Voters want More Coverage of Poverty, say it’s a Key Issue for 2017 and Beyond

Bill Nichols, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity Bill Nichols, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, posted on

Voters rank poverty above education and the environment as a priority for the new administration, while a majority believe the media spent an inadequate amount of time on poverty issues during the 2016 campaign.

Those are among the findings of a national exit poll of 1,000 voters taken on Election Day by McLaughlin & Associates in partnership with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

While voters want more media coverage of poverty, a separate Spotlight media scan found significant improvement on that score from the 2008 election cycle. A survey of 18 representative publications found a nearly 100 percent increase in mentions of poverty topics in 2016 from 2008 over the same month of coverage – Aug. 30 to Sept. 30.

The McLaughlin poll data shows an electorate that is anxious for change, pessimistic about the current trajectory of the country, remarkably divided along party and ideological lines, and disdainful of the press. Only 30 percent of respondents felt the media had been unbiased and a plurality – 48 percent – said the press was biased against Republican nominee Donald Trump.

That criticism extended to the substance of the 2016 political coverage. Sixty-one percent of voters said poverty issues had not been covered adequately.

And that dissatisfaction looms larger given that poverty continues to rank high on voters’ list of priorities. Given a list of seven issue areas from which to choose the next administration’s most important priority, 12 percent chose poverty, putting it narrowly behind taxes (13 percent) in fourth place. Thirty-four percent chose national security and 24 percent chose jobs. Rounding out the list were education (7 percent), the environment (7 percent), and trade (1.5 percent).

The interest in poverty noted in the survey seems to be reflected in newsroom decisions, even if voters don’t think the subject receives enough focus. Coverage of poverty and opportunity topics dramatically increased from the 2008 election cycle, according to a Spotlight media scan.

The Spotlight scan surveyed 18 representative publications, both print and digital, for key words from Aug. 30 to Sept. 30 of this year. Those results were then compared to a similar survey conducted from Aug. 30 to Sept. 30 of 2008.

The findings revealed 68 articles or blog posts published during the month examined in 2016, compared to 36 in 2008, suggesting an almost 100 percent increase in the coverage of poverty-related topics in national media. One key potential reason for the increase may have been the digital transformation of the U.S. media landscape, which has led to significantly more specialized online content.

The key terms used in the media scan included the names of the two major party nominees and the following words:

  • Poverty
  • Low-income
  • Hunger
  • Social Security
  • Welfare
  • Minimum Wage
  • EITC
  • Low-wage
  • Election
  • Campaign

These search terms were applied to the following select elite media outlets, looking at results from print news, web-based publications, magazines and journals, and blog posts affiliated with the following sources:

  • ABC News
  • The Atlantic
  • CBS News
  • CNN
  • The Economist
  • Fox News
  • The Hill
  • Los Angeles Times
  • NPR
  • NBC News
  • The New Republic
  • The New York Times
  • The New Yorker
  • Politico
  • USA Today
  • Wall Street Journal
  • The Washington Post

The McLaughlin firm’s co-founder and president, veteran Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin, also conducted surveys for Rebuilding America, a super PAC that supported Trump’s campaign.

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