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Approaching this week's Democratic National Convention, SPINdex is feeling a little overtaxed.

Of the major presidential election issues confronting the Democratic Party and the Clinton-Gore reelection team, taxes received the most news media play in the two-week period leading up to this week's column.

That either reflects a remarkable shift in genuine public sentiment or brilliant manipulation of the media by the Republican National Committee and the Dole-Kemp campaign.

A Gallup Poll conducted a few weeks before the Republican convention found that taxes ranked last among 12 issues respondents considered most important in determining which candidate they would vote for. Curiously, the No. 1 issue in that poll-the federal budget deficit-ranked last in media coverage leading into the Democratic convention (see SPINdex of only 24, trailing all political and general marketing-related news stories tracked in SPINdex's sample of influential media outlets. The week's top general marketing story-Microsoft Corp.'s and Netscape's Web browser war-elicited 32 stories and a SPINdex of 377.

SPINdex thinks the GOP pulled a media coup by refocusing attention on an issue the Dole-Kemp team claims it can and will do something about: cutting taxes.

If voters are getting that message, chances are it wasn't from reading Bob Dole's lips. Prime-time TV coverage of the GOP convention ranked at the bottom of 86 prime-time network programs measured by Nielsen Media Research for that week.

That means Dole's tax message was delivered primarily through conventional media pickup, generating 288 stories in print and electronic media news outlets that devoted 278,924 words of copy on the tax plan. A whopping 210 daily newspaper articles and 7.5 minutes of network newscast time earned taxes a SPINdex of 3,109.

The message played so well that the Dole-Kemp campaign broke its first post-convention flight, for the period surrounding the DNC's convention this week, with a $3.5 million swing-state buy for a spot touting Dole's tax plan.

Joe Mandese is senior VP of Myers Reports. Mark Weiner is VP of Medialink PR Research.

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