Time to rethink election campaign coverage

9 March 2018

A man wearing a suit is interviewed by reporters holding microphones
Relying heavily on horserace-driven opinion polls can be more misleading than informative.

The democratic need of citizens for policy driven reporting during elections is being woefully neglected by the British media.

This conclusion along with suggestions for an improvement in the effectiveness of election coverage appear in a new book by Stephen Cushion at the School of Journalism, Media and Culture.

Titled Reporting Elections: Rethinking the Logic of Campaign Coverage, the book asks fundamental questions such as how informative the news media is during campaigns and what kind of logic do they follow?

Given how elections are reported has important implications for the health of democracy and informed citizenship, as seen in the recent UK and US national elections, the book aims to propose an improved reporting narrative for the media where the agenda of voters takes centre stage in the campaign and the policies of respective political parties receive more airtime and independent scrutiny.

Cover of Reporting Elections
"How elections are reported has important implications for the health of democracy and informed citizenship." Dr Stephen Cushion

Dr Cushion and his co-author, Swansea University's Dr Richard Thomas, draw upon original research as well as the most comprehensive assessment of election studies to date to examine how campaigns are reported in many advanced Western democracies.

"The news media have a fundamental role to play in democratic systems," said Dr Cushion, "for most people they are the primary source of Election information during a campaign."

"Following the horserace between parties – who’s up or down in the polls – is often the focal point of campaign coverage. But, as recent electoral contests revealed, relying so heavily on horserace-driven opinion polls can be more misleading than informative, pushing issues to the margins and glossing over voters’ concerns.

"Instead, if journalists were more in tune with the public’s mood and anxieties and drew on a wider range of actors to interrogate politicians’ claims, a more independent news agenda might emerge."

Reporting Elections: Rethinking the Logic of Campaign Coverage is published by Polity.

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