News coverage, economic cues, and the public's presidential preferences, 1984-1996

Dhavan V. Shah, Mark D. Watts, David Domke, David P Fan, Michael Fibison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Much research demonstrates the importance of national, rather than personal, economic conditions on voting behavior, yet relatively unexplored is how citizens develop what scholars have called "rough evaluations" of the economy. We argue that campaign news coverage about the nation's economic health provides cues to the public; in turn, these cues supply the criteria for sociotropic voting, thereby shaping presidential preferences during the course of campaigns. Examining news stories in each of the past four presidential elections, we (1) categorize coverage as economic or noneconomic, (2) measure its volume and valence, and (3) model candidate coverage against presidential preference polls. Results suggest that economic candidate coverage, although accounting for only a fraction of content, strongly and consistently predicts variation in presidential preference during all four elections, suggesting that voters gain sociotropic criteria for evaluating candidates from news media coverage of campaigns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)914-943
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1999

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