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Comparing the language of election coverage: Fox News vs. MSNBC

It’s November 3rd, and you know what that means – it’s time to exercise your right to vote!

Heading to the polls isn’t just about picking up one of those nifty little stickers. It’s important to enter the voting booth as an informed and opinionated citizen. But it’s never that easy, the news you choose to consume can have an impact on the information and opinions you adopt.

To understand the ideological gap between two of the most polarized news organizations – Fox News and MSNBC – we analyzed online news coverage surrounding the two presidential candidates. Using text analysis, we compared the language used in a sample of articles from the past month to determine the linguistic differences between the two publications. Keep reading to find out just how deep the political divide goes…

Trump Coverage

This should come as no surprise to anyone when I say that Fox News coverage surrounding current president Donald Trump was more likely to be positive and fall under the category of ‘good.’

Words like ‘recovery’ and ‘growth’ were often used by Fox News to describe Trump’s actions, but these words were not seen at all from MSNBC.

Fox News, a traditionally conservative media outlet, was more likely to associate topics like agriculture and the economy with Donald Trump. Coverage praised his handling of the economy before the pandemic as well as his economic response to COVID-19.

Falling in line with its reputation as a liberal news source, MSNBC’s Trump coverage often depicted the president as ‘misleading’ or ‘fraudulent.’ Both words were used to describe Trump’s recent statements, including his recent claim that doctors have inflated coronavirus numbers to get more money from the government.

Biden Coverage

Fox News was far more likely to use violent or angry words when describing former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s actions or opinions were described as ‘aggressive’ and potentially leading to ‘chaos’, and many of these words were only seen from Fox.

Ding, ding, ding! MSNBC coverage was more likely to predict Biden as the winner of tonight’s election. Words like ‘win’ and ‘victory’ were more likely to be used, citing polls and political strategists as sources. While polling inaccuracies in 2016 left many surprised by Trump’s win, we wonder if 2020 is going to be any different?

Election Coverage

Throughout its coverage, Fox News continually stressed the importance of this election and the battleground states required for the win. Words like ‘key’ and ‘crucial’ were seen significantly more from Fox compared to MSNBC. This perhaps is alluding to concerns that Trump might be losing ground.

MSNBC was also more likely than Fox to describe the current election through the lens of fear, and words like ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ were only seen from this source, often describing fears of violence at the polls, people contracting COVID-19 and election interference.

Just remember

Be wary of where you get your news. Be a responsible news consumer by reading a variety of sources. It’s difficult to find no bias at all, but by exposing yourself to a range of publications, you can piece together the information and develop an opinion for yourself.