Here's a big warning to the Republican presidential candidates readying for a series of primary debates: Reporters ask questions about issues they are interested in or are trending in the news, not those the GOP voting class wants.
In a comprehensive analysis of the 719 questions asked at 28 GOP debates in the 2012 presidential primary and caucus process, pollster David Winston found that the media misjudged how much Republicans cared about the economy, foreign policy, and over a dozen other issues.
And in one unexpected finding, CNN correspondents were more in line with GOP voters than Fox News questioners.
Winston found that while more than half of GOP voters told 2012 exit polls that the economy was their top concern, the issue made up just 26 percent of the 719 questions. And foreign policy was the focus of 20 percent of the questions, but only 5 percent of voters said it was their top concern.
"Through an in-depth analysis of the more than 700 questions asked, we can see that the distribution of topics didn't quite match what voters were concerned about," said the report written by Winston, Nida Ansari and Emily O'Connor. "Perhaps the most striking insight from 2012: though Republican voters consistently said (in primary exit polls and surveys) that economic issues were their top priority in determining who to vote for, questions about the economy were largely underrepresented throughout the debates," they added.
"Looking forward to the 2016 Republican primary debates, it's important to ensure that questioners keep the Republican electorate's priorities in mind; for the foreseeable future, it seems that those priorities will center around issues concerning the economy and jobs," concluded their analysis, "Questions in Context: The 2012 Republican Primary Debates By the Numbers."
The report [see below] could put pressure on Fox, host of the first debate, to provide some additional context and insight for questions set to be asked of the top 10 GOP candidates allowed in, especially since it asked far more foreign policy questions in 2012. The cable network is already under fire for limiting the debate to the top polling candidates.
The analysis from Winston, president of the Winston Group, looked at the question topics, which reporter asked them and which media had the biggest impact. Key findings from 2012:
-- CNN's John King, a regular moderator, asked the most questions, 72, followed by Fox's Bret Baier with 57. Baier asked mostly about foreign policy, King the economy.
-- Out of the 169 questions asked by Fox correspondents, 42 -- or 24.9 percent -- were about foreign policy. Winston noted that Fox debates came during periods when foreign policy actions were a hot topic.
-- CNN's questions were closer to what GOP voters cared about. The economy was the most common topic area; 33 out of 128, or 25.8 percent. Only nine questions, or 7 percent, were on foreign policy. Both King and Wolf Blitzer's most common topic area was the economy, followed by electability and immigration.
-- CNBC correspondents appropriately asked the highest percentage of economic questions, 26 of 47.
-- The newspaper with reporters who asked the most questions was the Washington Examiner.
-- Mitt Romney, the presumed front-runner even when others were winning primaries and caucuses, received the most questions, 27 percent, followed by Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.