Americans from sea to shining sea are gearing up to vote tomorrow. Tensions are higher than they’ve been in a long time, while the mud-slinging is likely to keep up its steady pace until the polls officially close in Hawaii. No one really knows what tomorrow will bring. However, the 2016 US presidential election will be one of the few America has had thus far where election coverage will be continuous -- which is to say, we can measure how the major news media outlets are reporting on the election by the minute and up to the loser's official concession speech (if there is one this year).
One can easily expect that this year’s election day coverage will be every bit as contentious as it has been all year. In September, The Washington Post did an extensive look into tens of thousands of articles written on the two major party candidates. Their findings? Media outlets were covering Donald Trump far more than Hillary Clinton, while coverage was noticeably more positive toward Clinton than for Trump. That said, specific news pieces were either more positive or more negative toward each candidate -- a clear indicate of bias.
Here’s our relevant question, however: What were these same outlets saying about the candidates from past elections on election day? And what tone (whether biased or unbiased) should we expect from them this coming election day?
Given that Fox News was the furthest right-leaning news organization the Post analyzed, it should come as no surprise that on election day 2012, Fox News was running articles with a bit of an anti-Obama tilt. Real of fake, this particular election-day issue is certainly relevant to the national discussion, but also one that was not covered in some of the more liberal-leaning news organizations. For example, The Washington Post did not actively cover this story in 2012. Indeed, it was primarily covered by more conservative blogs and a few local newspapers.
Can we expect Fox News to report on other issues of a similar nature tomorrow? Most likely. Fox News has put on a full-court press this year in covering election fraud, publishing stories of this nature rather frequently. Chances are high that the news outlet will continue its emphasis on potential election fraud as well as negative stories on Hillary Clinton's email scandal. Expect more than a few articles related to that topic during the day.
The Weekly Standard
This piece is not quite on election day, but we’ll give a little wiggle room here since it’s from the day before. This article from The Weekly Standard highlights the news outlet’s right-leaning bias, as evidenced by The Washington Post’s data. Here, the outlet publishes a piece declaring a Romney victory. The reason? A tie in some polls leading up to the election. The actual election results were not nearly as close. Barack Obama won the 2012 election by a smaller margin than he did in 2008, but by no real accounts was it “close”. The now outgoing president scored major electoral college victory to win a second term, pulling in 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206. Even the popular vote, while closer, was still separated by 5 million votes.
Consequently, The Weekly Standard ran a piece after the 2012 election results decrying it as a “Status Quo Election”:
The Weekly Standard has fallen short of making broad victory predictions this year, which, given the general difficulty in predicting anything this election cycle, is probably a good idea. Chances are good, however, that win or lose, the news outlet’s right-leaning tendencies will continue on this year’s election day.
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal came in with the least biased coverage on either major party candidate this year. The slight lean toward Hillary Clinton in favorable sentiments is small enough as to be negligible. So it should come as no surprise that in 2012, WSJ primarily ran with rather unbiased articles on election day. An article on an Obama/Romney deadlock? That’s about as unbiased as one might get in a headline.
In typical Wall Street Journal fashion, the article is loaded with stats and graphs, edging far away from opinion writing and full on the side of good old numbers reporting. It’s likely a fair assumption that WSJ will be focusing solely on numbers this election day, as is also evidenced by the fact that the 127-year-old business-focused newspaper is doing just that a day before the election as well.
The Chicago Tribune
While The Chicago Tribune had election day coverage like everyone else, the news organization took a bit of a high road, choosing instead to emphasize an election day photo gallery of the incumbent President Obama on election day. The Post’s analysis showed the Tribune as one of the least biased, although with a bit of a left-leaning flair.
Would an organization like Fox News or The Weekly Standard decide to do an Obama voting-day photo gallery? Unlikely. It’s also unlikely that the Tribune, known famously for incorrectly printing a Dewey victory over Truman in 1948, will be making any stark election-day predictions or gambles. It remains to be seen if the organization will do a repeat this year in following President Obama to the polling place. Chances are good we will likely see some election day photo coverage, however, and most likely with a neutral tone. Given that the Tribune endorsed third party Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, it’s a good bet the outlet won’t have a positive spin for either Trump or Clinton on election day.
Unlike most of the other news outlets covered by the Post in their analysis, Politico was never a traditional, print news organization. Politico started in 2007 in the run up to the 2008 election cycle. The site’s political leanings have always been a bit hard to pin down, with liberal and conservative pundits typically claiming the site is one or the other. WashPo puts their 2016 coverage at more favorable for Hillary Clinton. That said, the site’s 2012 election coverage tended more toward objectivity, at least on election day. Most articles focused on what was happening on the ground, while the website took a page out of the Tribune’s book, publishing a load of election-day imagery as a form of media coverage.
Will Politico stay mostly neutral again this year? That’s hard to tell. Nevertheless, there’s likely to be a more positive lean toward Clinton in the reporting just given the website’s history, but probably not enough to raise any eyebrows.
The Washington Post
The Washington Post was no friend of Donald Trump this election cycle. And while the organization had a smattering of critical pieces on Hillary Clinton, these have been few and far between. In 2012, the outlet endorsed Barack Obama for a second term. In 2016, they’ve sided with the Democratic candidate yet again, endorsing Hillary Clinton.
Even still, WashPo is one of the largest news organizations in the U.S., producing an incredibly large amount of content each day. Even in 2012, the organization ran a large number of pieces that could be considered favorable to Obama, or neutral, but certainly none that would be considered glowing or positive to Romney. From images of a crying Obama to fact checking the two candidates, The Washington Post is likely to be a bit all over the place with its election day headlines. It's almost 100% unlikely to have any pieces that speak positively of Donald Trump in any aspect, however.
On election day 2012, Slate was running articles like the one above. Founded by a former New Republic editor, Slate has always had a leftward bend to its reporting. The online magazine, founded in 1996, endorsed Barack Obama in the 2012 election cycle with the following lead: “Full disclosure: There is probably a 0-percent chance I will ever vote for a Republican presidential candidate in my life.”
It almost seems frivolous to say that one shouldn’t expect unbiased coverage this year from Slate. Of course, the news organization already placed itself firmly in the left-leaning camp, with articles like this one taking center stage just before the election:
Don’t expect anything less than a handful of articles from Slate that are heavily biased toward Hillary Clinton or, at the least, heavily critical of Trump and conservative voters in general.
The New York Times
The New York Times unequivocally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president this year, and Barack Obama before her. As one of the oldest newspapers in the country, NYT has a long and hallowed tradition of trying to cover all angles. Still, the organization has tended to lean left fairly heavily and continues to do so. To its credit, it keeps its main page mostly free and clear of bias, while the politics pages and opinion pages are heavily loaded with left-leaning hit pieces against Republicans, conservatives, and anything generally not liberal. This was true in 2012, and it’s likely to be true again this year.