Short-term movements of perceptions, attitudes, or electoral preferences on the part of voters can only come about as responses to the reception of some kind of current information. The (traditional) mass media are the main source of such information during German election campaigns. The thematic agenda of the campaign, the presence and evaluation of parties and candidates (including the sources of these evaluations), messages concerning relations between the parties such as criticism, attacks, but also, importantly, coalition signals, as well as statements about electoral prospects (originating from polls but also from other sources), and reports on significant events that may or may not be related to the campaign itself, but have a potential to influence voters evaluations of parties and their candidates – all these are present in media content.
To register this information it is essential to include a media content analysis in the GLES (component 4, directed by Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck). These data was collected in such a way that they can be linked to the survey data, most notably the RCS component as well as the short-term campaign panel. The variable structure of the content analysis closely matches the surveys (which in turn collected detailed information about the respondents’ media use). In order to be able to identify important turning points for public opinion, but also in order to allow for a precise matching of the content data to the RCS campaign survey and, somewhat less precise, to the online campaign panel it is essential that such data are collected on a daily basis.
The content analysis includes the most important German mass media, either with regard to their ratings, or with regard to their opinion leader role within the German media system: The main evening newscasts of the of the public broadcasters and those of the most popular commercial channels( Tagesschau (ARD), Heute (ZDF), RTL aktuell (RTL), Sat.1 Nachrichten (Sat.1)) as well as the five most important national quality newspapers (Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, die tageszeitung), and the most widely read tabloid “Bild-Zeitung” which is at the same time the newspaper with the largest total readership in Germany.
At the German Federal Election of 2009 the observation period covered the last 91 days before election day. Altogether 1.395 political TV news stories and 2.323 press articles were collected and analysed. At the German Federal Election 2013 the content analyses of print media and TV news was replicated with the same research design. During the last 91 days before the Federal Election 2013 1,060 political TV news stories and 2,403 press articles were collected and analyzed.
Apart from the dynamic analyses, the content analysis also allows for aggregate analyses, describing media coverage of the campaign in total. In the long run, these content analyses will provide data that are comparable over time and therefore allow tracing long-term developments of campaign coverage in Germany.