When Journalists Say What a Candidate Doesn’t: Race, Nation and the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign

Penelope Sheets, Charles M. Rowling


Research indicates that U.S. news coverage of non-White political candidates tends to be race-focused and often prompts White voters to bring racial considerations to the polls. Indeed, racial considerations likely cost Barack Obama a significant percentage of White voters in the 2008 presidential election. Nonetheless, scholarship also suggests that Obama aggressively sought to transcend difference—racial or otherwise—during his 2008 campaign via explicit appeals to the national identity. Given these competing dynamics, we conducted a content analysis of both Obama’s nationally televised campaign speeches and U.S. news coverage to assess the relative salience of nation- and race-related language present in this discourse. We find that Obama consistently emphasized nation over race, but that journalists overwhelmingly reprioritized race over nation.


race, nation, news values, Obama, 2008 U.S. presidential election

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