Media's obsession with Donald Trump reaches fever pitch

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt once wrote that we no longer live in democracies but “media democracies”, where politicians battle for attention in a news cycle predisposed to the negative and superficial.

There has perhaps been no better exemplar of that theory than Donald Trump, the reality TV star turned president who has commanded unprecedented attention, not just in the US but all around the world.

As an example, Mr Trump has now been the subject of more Australian metropolitan media items in 2020 than our own Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

His hospitalisation with coronavirus, and rejoining of the campaign trail, made the US president the subject of 26,000 distinct media items last month alone, some 35 per cent more than Mr Morrison in March, when Australia’s coronavirus-lockdown was first implemented.

Mr Trump’s ability to generate “earned media” was undoubtedly a huge part of his success in 2016. Publishers at the time also benefited - many referring to a “Trump bump” in audiences.

He has again been the candidate most spoken about, although the gap has narrowed since his hospitalisation in early October.

He may, however, find that not all publicity is good publicity when you’re the person in office, rather than agitating from the outside.

While the polls point to a likely Joe Biden victory, Mr Trump has maintained his dominance on Facebook, where his supporters love to share his message far and wide.

Perhaps those with the most to lose if Trump wins are pollsters, who assure the public they made numerous methodology changes since getting it wrong in 2016. With the margins of projected victory even bigger for Joe Biden than they were for Hillary Clinton, getting this one wrong could be a final blow for traditional polling companies.

Looking at the issues, and coronavirus has certainly dominated the election campaign, being mentioned in more than 50% of stories referencing each candidate.

Compared to his opponent, Mr Trump is more likely to be associated with topics of law and order, borders and defence, while Mr Biden is more commonly mentioned near the economy, China and climate change.

It used to be that the Melbourne Cup day was one of the least productive days on the Australian working calendar. Now it’s unlikely to even be the least productive day of this week.

And with no guarantees of a result being declared on Wednesday, Mr Trump seems likely to dominate the news cycle for some time to come yet.

- Conal Hanna is the former digital editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and is Streem’s Media and Partnerships Lead.

Streem is expanding its Insights and Reporting offerings. For more information, contact insights@streem.com.au.

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