On the upside, the type of media campaign coverage saw a positive change from 2008 to 2012. In 2008, some 80 percent of the media coverage was devoted to the primary horse races, but that number shrank to some 64 percent in this cycle, says Mr. Rosenstiel.
"There was a perception back in 2008 that there was not that much difference between the Democratic candidates," he says. In this race, there was much more media effort devoted to defining the various candidates based on their stands on certain issues. For Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, for example, the media examined his health-care position, as well as “whether or not he is a true conservative,” Rosenstiel says.
The report also charted the character of coverage of the candidates. Coverage of President Obama was far more negative than the coverage of Mr. Romney, for whom the tone was more mixed, says Rosenstiel.
"There is a certain logic to the math in this,” he says, noting that all the Republican candidates focused much of their fire on Mr. Obama. “If you have some seven different individuals all getting coverage from the media, all framing their arguments negatively against the president," that will inevitably create an imbalance.
"President Obama only has a single voice to counter that flood of critiques," he adds.