TV: The Public Media Image & The 2012 Vote

The use of mass communications media is playing a decisive role in deciding the 2012 presidential election so far. President Obama skillfully used a Tuesday appearance on Jay Leno’s THE TONIGHT SHOW to boost his sagging popularity numbers, which have now improved somewhat. But, while the televised Republican debates have been drawing good ratings( 5.5 million viewers for CNN last week), the debates have so far only led to a more confused race for the GOP. While Mitt Romney remains with a solid core of supporters who recognize him as perhaps the best Republican chance to wrest away the White House from the Democratic president, more conservative voters have supported candidates such as Barbara Bachmann then Rick Perry, and now Herman Cain, looking for a more conservative alternative to Romney. The debates could have acted to produce an early clear front-runner, instead they have only complicated the GOP race by illustrating real weaknesses with some of the candidates. Both Bachmann and Rick Perry’s fortunes quickly rose and then quickly sagged due to their debate their performances. On the other hand, despite a terrible economy, President Obama’s media handlers have made clever use of the media to reignite his weakening approval numbers which were in the high 30’s only a few days ago.

As with all recent presidential elections, one state, Ohio, will likely decide the ultimate winner of the election. and now President Obama leads all GOP challengers in the latest polls from that critical state according to the latest polls published over at Real Clear Politics. Further, the President either leads the polls in other critical swing states like Nevada or nearly ties with Romney, although he could likely lose some states in New England such as tiny New Hampshire to Romney. Both Cain and Perry run far weaker races than Romney runs, who generally ties with the President or sometimes leads slightly. Voters in some critical states such as Ohio can expect to have to sit through massive TV ad wars since only a handful of states will decide a close election such as a Romney-Obama match-up.

So far, several important key trends of the public perception of the candidates from the media begin to be shaping up the race in this way: Mitt Romney hasn’t been harmed by the debates, but really hasn’t gained any new ground among voters. President Obama’s handlers have proven the ability to improve his poll numbers through carefully selected media opportunities. Barbara Bachmann and Rick Perry have clear media problems. Herman Cain’s engaging personality, impressive job resume, seem to have given him significant recent gains among GOP voters on one hand, but polls prove his difficulty as a general election candidate. The clear media winners here appear to be both Mitt Romney and the president. That’s important, because all of the other candidates appear unlikely to be elected, at least based on their current mass media public perceptions and corresponding polling numbers.

The latest news is that Rick Perry may now skip some or all of the upcoming Republican debates to limit further damage to his sagging campaign. The perceived public media image is kinder to some candidates than others it appears. None of this illustrates a media bias here, rather that some candidates can better manage their TV image.

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