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Report Says Leftward Tilt Online For Dems

With Election Day less than two weeks away, it's anyone's race to win. Interest among voters of both parties is high, but a new survey suggests that the very committed voters -- those who contribute to a campaign or attend an event -- are far more likely to identify themselves as liberal Democrats than conservative Republicans.

That gap in engagement extends to the Web, according to a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.

Sixty percent of liberal Democrats said they had watched some type of campaign video online, compared to 33 percent of conservative Republicans. When it comes to blogosphere, 43 percent of the ultra-lefties said they read political blogs, compared to 22 percent of those on the other end of the spectrum.

The more moderate segments of each party even out the numbers considerably, though they indicate an across-the-board surge in interest in politics among Web users. Among overall voters, 39 percent said they have watched a campaign video on the Web, and 27 percent have read political blogs, showing a substantial increase in political activity since Pew's last survey in November.

While Pew concluded that the emphatic liberals were clearly the most politically active segment online, the survey did indicate that Democrats of all stripes and younger voters were more likely to use the Internet to learn about the campaign or connect with the candidates.

Left out of the surging growth in political activity on the Web were the social networks, as the Pew survey found that people's interest in politics on Facebook and MySpace had held grown only minimally since the beginning of the campaign season. Eight percent of respondents to Pew's survey said they had visited a social network to learn about a campaign, up just two percentage points from a similar survey last year.

Pew's conclusions about the left-leaning blogosphere are borne out by a recent report from online metrics firm comScore, which reported a huge spike in traffic to political blogs last month compared to September 2007. The surge in political interest is to be expected in an election year. But at the top of the list is the very liberal HuffingtonPost.com, which saw 4.5 million unique visitors in September, compared to 792,000 the same month last year.

Second on the list is the more moderate, but still left-of-center, Politico.com.

The first conservative outlet to make the list is DrudgeReport.com, which checks in at No. 3. Drudge posted a healthy jump in year-over-year traffic, though not as dramatic as Huffington, whose eponymous founder Ariana has said she founded the blog to serve as a counterpoint to Matt Drudge's site. In September, the DrudgeReport saw 2.1 million unique visitors, up from 1.2 million the same month last year.

Of course, blogs -- either left or right -- are not known for their evenhandedness. But the increased exposure of the Democratic candidate is not limited to the blogosphere, according to data-services provider LexisNexis, which maintains an election dashboard tracking the press coverage of each candidate across all media formats.

Last week, Barack Obama was the subject of 18 percent more media reports than his Republican opponent John McCain. Each candidate saw more media coverage last week than any since LexisNexis launched its tracking dashboard in early July.

So what of the "liberal media"? LexisNexis also maintains a "sentiment index," an algorithm-driven calculus designed to measure the tone of a news story by analyzing how common words and phrases are strung together that could betray the author's leanings.

By that measure, Obama enjoys and edge over McCain. Of the 10,454 stories focused on the Democrat last week, LexisNexis judged 37 percent positive, 30 percent neutral and 33 percent negative. McCain, the subject of 8,834 stories, saw his coverage split at 31 percent positive, 32 percent neutral and 37 percent negative.

The media analysis also found that Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, is dropping off the media map after a splashy entrance. Palin was the subject of 20 percent fewer news stories last week than the previous week, continuing a steady decline. In tone, however, the stories about both Palin and Obama running mate Joe Biden were roughly even, with about 60 percent tallied as "neutral" for both candidates.