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Counting the Vote Coverage: ArtPrize vs Local Elections

November 8, 2009

Since 1998 GRIID has been monitoring election coverage in West Michigan. Most of our studies in the past have been entitled An Informed Vote, as we were attempting to determine whether or not voters who relied on Grand Rapids-based news media could make an informed decision when voting.

We just finished another monitoring project of the local news media as it related to the November 3 elections. According to the Kent County Clerk’s office, there were 43 candidates running for office in Kent County alone and three ballot proposals.


In this monitoring project we only looked at the Grand Rapids Press from October 2, 2009 through November 3, 2009. We documented all stories related to elections in Kent County, but also tracked stories that were about ArtPrize. Considering the amount of news coverage that ArtPrize generated in the local media, we decided to make a comparison of the voting for ArtPrize and voting in local political elections.

We chose to begin the monitoring project on October 2, a full month before the local elections, but also because it was the day that the Top 10 Finalists in the ArtPrize competition were announced. Statistically what we found is that there were a total of 10 Election stories over the 30-day period and 35 ArtPrize stories.

We also looked at placement of stories and found that local elections only made the front page once (November 1st), whereas ArtPrize was on the front page a total of 6 times during this 30-day period.

As we suggested in a previous posting, it appears that an art contest organized by the richest family in the area garnered more media attention than local elections. And remember, these statistics on the number of election stories vs ArtPrize are almost exclusively after the ArtPrize vote. Imagine how many more ArtPrize stories there would be to local election coverage if we looked at 30 days prior to the art contest vote.

Some Election Analysis

In the 10 election stories, the first story did not appear until October 24 (Campaign Finances). On October 26, there were two short stories on ballot proposals in Rockford and Overisel Township. Grand Rapids City Commission races got coverage on October 27, 28 and November 1st. There was also a full story on a Kentwood City Commission race on October 30. Some local races were mentioned at the end of other stories, but the only elections that received any substance were the First & Third Wards in Grand Rapids and the City Commission race in Kentwood.

In the Grand Rapids City Commission candidate coverage the Press used a set of questions that they submitted to all four candidates running in the First & Third Ward. The questions were primarily focused around city budget issues – cutting departments, taxes, pensions, road repairs and the creation of bike lanes. While these were relevant questions to ask of the candidates, there certainly could have been more that the Press could have asked these candidates.

In addition, in both of the City Commission races there were incumbents running. However, the Press never bothered to report on the voting record of either candidate. Providing voters with a record of how candidates have voted in the past would be useful information on where they might stand on issues in the future.

Lastly, considering the lack of coverage by the only daily newspaper in the Grand Rapids area is it a surprise that only 10% of the registered voters in Grand Rapids even bothered to participate in the election process?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    November 9, 2009 5:13 pm

    I’m still feeling a little shell-shocked from ArtPrize, and this helps explain why. And while ArtPrize was using up all the media oxygen, I did find it especially difficult this year to find ANY information about the November election.

    Are there good alternative sources you can recommend for future voting information in these mixed elections–ones that informs on the issues objectively? I know that the League of Women Voters covers school issues, but tends not to speak to other areas of voting.

  2. November 9, 2009 7:35 pm

    Unfortunately Kate, there are very few independent & non-partisan sources of information on local elections. For years GRIID used to host candidate debates for local races, but I’m not aware of people doing that anymore. If you come across any sources please share them with us as we would love to provide that information to a much larger sector of the community.

  3. November 9, 2009 10:20 pm

    Of course, ArtPrize was a media event to begin with and they simply took the bait.

  4. Peter Ruark permalink
    November 9, 2009 10:25 pm

    It is really too bad that the GR weekly so-called “alternative” paper shut down around 2002. (I think it was called “The Paper.”) While not perfect, I recall it had good coverage of local issues. We’ve got a good one here in Lansing called “City Pulse,” probably owned by the same company, which seems to have similar weeklies in lots of cities. Though it’s likely corporate-owned, I much prefer its coverage of Lansing area elections and issues to the Gannet-owned Lansing State Journal. Hopefully Grand Rapids will get another such paper in the future.


  1. New GR Press Editor Speaks to the Progressive Women’s Alliance « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. The “Benefits” of ArtPrize « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. GQ’s take on ArtPrize and the DeVos Family « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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