Newt Gingrich has taken center stage, both with voters and in the media.
A new analysis of presidential campaign coverage shows that last week, Gingrich's presence in the news media—greatly diminished after fourth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire—skyrocketed to surpass Mitt Romney as the man at the center of campaign coverage.
The analysis, from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, reveals that during the week of Jan. 16-22, Gingrich was a "significant newsmaker"—that is, present in 25 percent or more of a given news story—in 57 percent of campaign 2012 stories, putting him just ahead of Romney's 53.6 percent. In contrast, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was a significant newsmaker in only 11.5 percent of stories, President Obama in 7.5 percent, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in only 3.4 percent.
Pew's data, which covers the period from July 2011 until the present, suggests that last week Gingrich stole some of the limelight back from Romney. While Romney has led in news coverage volume for most of the campaign, Gingrich overtook him in early November, only to be felled in early January. Romney's presence as a lead newsmaker during the week of Jan. 9 hit an all-time high of 69.4 percent. During that week, Gingrich was only at 25.1 percent, and the week before that, he lagged behind Paul, Santorum, and Romney with 18.3 percent.
Of course, not all attention is good attention, as the former Speaker learned last week when ex-wife Marianne Gingrich revealed to ABC's Nightline that he had once asked her for an open marriage. Still, Newt Gingrich's triumphs last week, including a surge in the polls and an endorsement from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, helped boost the volume of his news coverage, and his win in the South Carolina primary in particular helped to give him more positive coverage, according to the Pew report.
While coverage of Gingrich had been more negative than positive in tone throughout December and early January, stories about him were evenly split, 28 percent positive to 28 percent negative (with the remainder being neutral) last week. Coverage of Romney, by comparison, was less neutral and more negative—35 percent negative to 33 percent positive.
Interestingly, the two candidates with by far the least coverage, Paul and Santorum, enjoy more positive coverage than Romney or Gingrich. Stories about Santorum last week were 29 percent positive in tone to 23 percent negative. Paul, who has had the most sustained positive coverage throughout the campaign, had an even wider margin, with stories about him being 25 percent positive to 17 percent negative.
Of course, this data only covers 52 major print, broadcast and online news outlets. When it comes to social media, Romney is clearly capturing the most attention, with more than 622,000 statements last week—nearly 150,000 more than Gingrich and more than 350,000 more than Paul or Santorum. However, statements about Paul on Twitter are overwhelmingly positive, by a margin of 55 percent to 25 percent. The closest Republican candidate is Gingrich, and statements about him are still far more negative than positive, by a margin of 46 to 22 percent.