Newspaper coverage of political candidates’ race or ethnicity coincides with greater coverage of public policy issues, according to a study by researchers at New York University and North Central College. However, the study also found that coverage of public policy issues in contests that include either a black or Latino candidate and a white candidate is less than in elections with two white candidates. The study, by professors Stephen Caliendo at North Central College and Charlton McIlwain at NYU, appears in the latest issue of the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics.

The study’s authors examined national and local newspaper coverage of nine election contests from the 2004 cycle, including five U.S. Senate contests and four U.S. House contests, beginning with the day following the primary to Election Day in November 2004. Of the Senate races, two featured Latino candidates against white candidates, one featured an African American candidate against a white candidate, one included two African American candidates, and one included two white candidates. The U.S. House races included one contest between an African American and a white candidate, one contest between two black candidates in a majority-black district, and two contests between two white candidates.

Caliendo and McIlwain examined whether or not stories were “racially framed”-stories that mentioned the race of either or both candidates, mentioned the race of the voters, and included a photograph of one or both candidates along with the story. They found that newspaper stories mentioning the non-white candidate’s race are more likely to contain coverage of public policy issues than when the non-white candidate’s race is not included. The finding suggests that coverage of race or ethnicity does not necessarily crowd out analysis of public policy issues in news reporting.

However, the researchers reported that contests made up of only white candidates receive a greater amount of public policy coverage than do those that include a black or Latino candidate. They found that in races featuring two white candidates, newspaper stories mentioned an average of 1.6 policy issues per story while those covering a contest between a black candidate and white candidate included 1.1 policy issues per story, a statistically significant finding.

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