ABC, NBC Ignore Economy as Voters’ Top Concern in Post-Election Analysis

Exit polls showed economy weighing on voters' minds, but networks ignored it in 84 percent of stories.

The Republican “wave” in the Nov. 4, 2014, midterm elections had many reasons, but at least one was dissatisfaction with the economy. While, the three broadcast networks acknowledged the elections were bad for Democrats, they mostly ignored the economy and its impact on the election.

Instead, now that Republicans hold a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the networks have chosen to preach bipartisanship.

Nearly half of voters said the economy was the most important issue to them this election, and 70 percent of voters said the economy was “not so good or poor,” according to National Election Pool exit polls reported by The Washington Post. In spite of those polls, the networks failed to mention voter’s economic concerns in 84 percent of election stories (37 of 44) in almost a week following the midterms. Of the three networks, only CBS reported that voters ranked the economy as their most pressing concern in exit polls, while ABC and NBC entirely ignored it.

Between the evenings of Nov. 4 and Nov. 10, CBS consistently reported that the “economy is a major issue,” as they said on “Evening News” Nov. 5. Yet ABC and NBC shied away from discussing exactly what motivated voters on Election Day. Instead, they generalized Democrat losses as a “full-fledged repudiation” of President Barack Obama.

While it was true that many voters disapproved of Obama’s performance, ABC’s and NBC’s assessment failed to report that voters listed the economy as their most important issue this election. Both ABC and NBC quoted statistics from exit polls without mentioning voters’ views regarding the economy. An issue the network media have often protected Obama from.

Instead of focusing on the economy, these networks discussed voters’ sentiments in general terms.

For example, David Muir, anchor of ABC’s “World News,” said on Nov. 4, 2014, that “65 percent of Americans at the polls today say we are on the wrong track.” George Stephanopoulos, anchor of “Good Morning America” and “This Week,” added that “54 percent disapprove of the job the president is doing right now.”

Brian Williams, anchor of NBC’s “Nightly News,” said during the broadcast on Nov. 4, 2014, that pollsters had been talking to voters, “asking them what’s been driving them this Election Day.”  Reporting on the exit polls, correspondent and “Today” co-host Tamron Hall followed up that “48 percent, Brian, say [life] will be worse for the next generation.”

Williams tritely observed, “That's why they're using the word ‘sour’ to describe the mood at the polls for a lot of folks tonight,” failing to delve into more substantive analysis.

Chuck Todd, NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent, unintentionally summed up ABC and NBC coverage well when he said, “I mean, this was really about President Obama,” on “Today” Nov. 5.

ABC and NBC were correct that many voters were unhappy with Obama and the direction of the country, but that should have prompted them to ask why. Instead, both failed to discuss the specifics, such as the economy, that was “driving” voter displeasure. While 33 percent of voters said one reason for the way they voted was to “express opposition to Barack Obama,” 45 percent said that the main issue on their minds was the economy according to the exit polls sponsored by the National Election Pool. (The National Election Pool is sponsored by all three broadcast news networks and numerous other major news outlets.)

Jonathan Karl, Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News, demonstrated this vague style of post-election analysis on “Good Morning America” Nov. 5. “This morning, the message from the White House is, ‘We get it,’” Karl said. He did not mention the economy, but simply said voters wanted the administration to “make Washington work” and focus on bipartisanship.

Lester Holt, co-anchor of the weekend edition of “Today” on NBC, similarly relied on generalities, leading him to misinterpret the election’s “message” during the Nov. 8, broadcast. Holt told Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., that “the American people” were primarily concerned about bipartisanship.

“I think if there is any message that came out of this election, people really want you guys to get it together and-- and-- and play nicely together,” Holt said.

Unlike ABC and NBC, CBS correctly and quickly reported that the election had a lot to do with the economy. During “This Morning” Nov. 5, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., told co-host Charlie Rose that voters went to the polls on Election Day with “economic anxiety” weighing on their minds. On the same broadcast, John Dickerson, political director of CBS News, said, “voters are going to punish anybody who isn’t addressing that question.”

Economic frustration was clear in the National Election Pool exit polls. Anthony Mason, CBS’ Senior Business Correspondent, shared those results with viewers on Nov. 4. He said that “45 percent of voters put it at the top of their list” when asked by pollsters.

Indeed, whether voters supported Democrat or Republican candidates correlated to their assessment of the economy. Voters who said the economy was the most important issue this election split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, while the 70 percent of voters who said the condition of the economy was “not so good” or “poor” were more likely to support Republicans, according to exit polling by the National Election Pool.

Of the voters who said the economy’s current state was “not so good,” 56 percent they preferred Republican candidates. Seventy-eight percent of voters who said the economy was in “poor” condition said they favored Republicans while 74 percent who said the economy was “excellent or good” supported Democrats.  

Other issues were nowhere near as important for voters as the economy, judging by the exit polls. Only 25 percent of voters said health care was their most important issue this election, while 14 percent said their top issue was illegal immigration and 13 percent said foreign policy.

Voters had reason to be frustrated. Many Americans haven’t benefitted from the economic recovery. James Pethokoukis, columnist at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), wrote on Nov. 10, that workers may be finding jobs, but not “good” ones that pay well. “Wage growth is barely beating inflation,” Pethokoukis pointed out.

In addition to inflation, Stephen Moore, Chief Economist at The Heritage Foundation, said on Oct. 31, 2014, that ObamaCare was partly to blame for stagnant household incomes.

ObamaCare “has made health insurance more expensive for businesses” and has therefore “taken a bite out of take-home pay,” Moore said. Obama also hiked corporate tax rates in 2013, meaning that “corporations invest less here at home” and that more jobs were created overseas instead, according to Moore.

Methodology: MRC Business analyzed all the broadcast network news stories which included the term “election” or “elections,” and substantially discussed the 2014 midterm election, from the evening of Nov. 4, 2014, through Nov. 10, 2014. Of the 44 stories that aired on “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “This Morning,” “Nightly News,” “World News,” and “Evening News,” only seven mentioned that voters’ top concern was the economy.