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Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates
Unformatted Document Text:  Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates Literature Review The handful of studies that analyze press coverage of third-party candidates are limited in scope in that they examine only one campaign, emphasize story counts, or focus exclusively on presidential politics. 1 Rosenstone, Behr, and Lazarus (1984), Stempel (1969), and Stempel and Windhauser (1984) all documented that third-party presidential candidates receive less attention than Democrats and Republicans, but they did little else. Later research moved beyond a pure analysis of story volume to examine such issues as how the news media covered independent presidential contender John Anderson (Stovall 1985) and how even a popular independent like H. Ross Perot could not circumvent the traditional news media (Zaller and Hunt 1994 and 1995). Answering why these candidates are ignored has been a bit trickier. Stovall (1985) argued that coverage of Anderson’s 1980 independent presidential campaign “fell considerably short of that given to Carter and Reagan” because journalists tend to “value third parties for what they contribute to the debate on the campaign itself, not the issues raised in the campaign” (271). Robinson and Sheehan’s (1983) analysis of the 1980 election determined that third-party presidential candidates are unlikely to have any credibility with the press unless, like Anderson, they start their careers in one of the major parties. And in a study that examined the presidential campaigns of George Wallace, Anderson and Perot, Pirch (2004) concluded that minor-party candidates will get on the news media’s radar only if they are (1) difficult to label as “liberal” or “conservative,” (2) take unique political positions that don’t stray too far from the 1 The only study found that examines news coverage of a third-party candidate who ran for something other than president – Jesse Ventura’s successful bid to become governor of Minnesota in 1998 – examined how the former professional wrestler was covered by the press in his capacity as an entertainer rather than as a representative of the Reform Party (Frith 2005). 4

Authors: Kirch, John.
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Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates
Literature Review
The handful of studies that analyze press coverage of third-party candidates are 
limited in scope in that they examine only one campaign, emphasize story counts, or 
focus exclusively on presidential politics.
  Rosenstone, Behr, and Lazarus (1984), 
Stempel (1969), and Stempel and Windhauser (1984) all documented that third-party 
presidential candidates receive less attention than Democrats and Republicans, but they 
did little else.  Later research moved beyond a pure analysis of story volume to examine 
such issues as how the news media covered independent presidential contender John 
Anderson (Stovall 1985) and how even a popular independent like H. Ross Perot could 
not circumvent the traditional news media (Zaller and Hunt 1994 and 1995).
Answering why these candidates are ignored has been a bit trickier.  Stovall 
(1985) argued that coverage of Anderson’s 1980 independent presidential campaign “fell 
considerably short of that given to Carter and Reagan” because journalists tend to “value 
third parties for what they contribute to the debate on the campaign itself, not the issues 
raised in the campaign” (271).  Robinson and Sheehan’s (1983) analysis of the 1980 
election determined that third-party presidential candidates are unlikely to have any 
credibility with the press unless, like Anderson, they start their careers in one of the 
major parties.  And in a study that examined the presidential campaigns of George 
Wallace, Anderson and Perot, Pirch (2004) concluded that minor-party candidates will 
get on the news media’s radar only if they are (1) difficult to label as “liberal” or 
“conservative,” (2) take unique political positions that don’t stray too far from the 
1
 The only study found that examines news coverage of a third-party candidate who ran for something other 
than president – Jesse Ventura’s successful bid to become governor of Minnesota in 1998 – examined how 
the former professional wrestler was covered by the press in his capacity as an entertainer rather than as a 
representative of the Reform Party (Frith 2005).
4


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