COMMENTS: Issues? What Issues?

It is remarkable how little attention has been paid to issues coverage during this Presidential cycle.

Here are the network-by-network trends (in minutes of airtime) for issues coverage for each Presidential year since 1988 on the three broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts. Issues coverage is differentiated from candidate coverage thus: it takes a public policy, outlines the societal problem that needs to be addressed, describes the candidates' platform positions and proposed solutions, and evaluates their efficacy.

The amount of time spent on issues coverage represents the attempt by television news to establish a political agenda that is driven by the perceived problems that the country faces rather than those talking points that the candidates select to promote their own causes.

This year's absence of issues is an accurate portrayal of the turf on which the election is being played out. It has turned into a referendum on the candidates' fitness for office, hinging on attributes such as honesty, trustworthiness, judgment, temperament, stamina, good health, comportment and boorishness. If the candidates are not talking about the issues, the news media would be misrepresenting the contest to do so.

With just two weeks to go, issues coverage this year has been virtually non-existent. Of the 32 minutes total, terrorism (17 mins) and foreign policy (7 mins) towards the Middle East (Israel-ISIS-Syria-Iraq) have attracted some attention. Gay rights, immigration and policing have been mentioned in passing.

No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits. To the extent that these issues have been mentioned, it has been on the candidates' terms, not on the networks' initiative.

year (mins) Total ABC CBS NBC
1988 117 36 40 42
1992 210 112 38 60
1996 98 29 53 17
2000 130 45 39 46
2004 203 40 119 44
2008 220 41 119 66
2012 114 13 70 32
2016 (YTD) 32 8 16 8


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