Media Coverage in the 2016 Illinois Senate Race

After an examination of national news sources, particularly The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, there is a surprisingly small amount of media coverage about the 2016 Senate race in Illinois. The media actively seeks “conflict and drama,” so the majority of national reporting has been merely covering Kirks’ struggle to maintain his Senate seat (Hayes, 56). Most articles from these two national sources report Kirk as being “vulnerable” perhaps being even the “most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election,” rather than covering substantive issues facing Illinoisans. Given Kirk’s seemingly uphill battle to win this election, the media is committed to following “the conflict,” and thus poses a threat to his campaign since he cannot control the pessimistic media tone from reaching voters (Crowder-Meyer, October 21, 2016).

Being the challenger, Tammy Duckworth has received relatively little national media coverage from either The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. For instance in the past six months, The New York Times has only published three articles that even mention her, some merely discussing how Duckworth did not receive endorsements from gun control groups or her stance on the TPP. In this sense, Duckworth might struggle with name recognition among voters as she is not being discussed nearly as much as the incumbent.

More importantly than national news, however, is the local media’s coverage of the race. There has been a significant focus on Donald Trump and the relationship between him and Kirk. Being from the Republican Party, it was surprising that Kirk quickly withdrew his support of Trump, and there have been numerous articles, from sources such as Herald & Review and the Chicago Sun-Times, that highlight Kirk’s aversion to Trump. Individuals trust the news media more than campaigns, and this repeated coverage is perhaps priming Illinoisans to value Trump as an important issue when voting (Crowder-Meyer, October 21, 2016). As Hayes mentions in his work, “the more attention the media devote to an issue, the more likely the public is to view that issue as important.” (57) It is unclear whether this denouncement of Trump is significant enough to help define this important issue as: Kirk does not support Trump, rather than, Trump is the Republican nominee and Kirk is a Republican. Nevertheless, Kirk’s numerous attempts to distance himself from Trump, and the media’s repeated priming of this topic, might help him in November in a state where Donald Trump averages 14.7 points behind Hillary Clinton.

This election season has brought about questions other than pure politics of Donald Trump such as of both candidates’ fit for office given their disabilities. This race is notable since it pits two disabled and experienced politicians against each other. In a surprising note of endorsement from The Chicago Tribune, a well-respected newspaper company based in Chicago, they claim that “While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness” because “His health is a fundamental component of this race.” Little attention, however, is given towards Duckworth’s loss of two legs due to her serving in Iraq. Media focus has continued to center on Kirk’s stroke and recovery. In particular, an article from the CBS Chicago discusses Kirk’s surgeon’s statement that “he has made a full cognitive recovery from his ischemic stroke” and Duckworth’s assertion that Kirk is “‘unhinged’” after Kirk made an inappropriate statement about President Obama. The media enjoys this topic as it plays into their “narrative” about each candidate, and they are in fact priming how individuals “evaluate” these two candidates and framing how this disability is a negative aspect of Kirk (Crowder-Meyer, October, 21, 2016). It is rather disturbing seeing such scrutiny on an uncontrollable physical aspect of a candidate and knowing it will “[form] what [the voters] think is important.” (Crowder-Meyer, October 24, 2016).

After a thorough examination of this campaign, it is clear that the local media coverage is priming voters and framing certain issues while the national media is generally avoiding discussing important issues in this race. This type of influence is significant in such an important race, but it is unclear how much it will change the outcome, if at all, on Election Day.




6 thoughts on “Media Coverage in the 2016 Illinois Senate Race”

  1. It seems Donald Trump’s campaign is affecting republicans around the nation. In my own race, Representative Kirkpatrick made numerous attacks on Senator McCain for not renouncing Trump. McCain has since denounced his support for Trump, but it will be interesting to see how Trump being a “Republican” will affect other Republicans’ and their chances to win election.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least in my race, it seemed as thought the media was priming voters to focus on Trump and his relationship with the incumbent, Kirk. Do you believe the local media in Arizona is doing the same thing in the race that you are following?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Obviously there were a few outlets trying to prime the issue of Trumps negative relationship with McCain, however they tended to be less popular. On local sites like AZ central, the main issue being primed were, for example, education or minimum wage reform. These sites seemed to be more popular among followers as well. It was refreshing to see these outlets focusing more on substantive politics, covering political events between the two candidates such as debates or press conferences. It was refreshing to see these outlets trying to report more on substantive politics rather than conflict and drama. (Hayes, 56).


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