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Media coverage crucial in election campaigns: University of Toronto study

University of Toronto

The tone and amount of media coverage party leaders receive during an election campaign has great impact on undecided voters, says a University of Toronto political scientist.

"This finding is certainly important to political parties who are spending millions on media campaigns and it's also important to parties that don't get covered by the media," says Professor Neil Nevitte. "If you don't get the coverage, you're toast." Nevitte and Patrick Fournier, Richard Nadeau and André Blais of Université de Montrèal and Elisabeth Gidengil of McGill University are co-authors of the study, Time-of-voting decision and susceptibility to campaign effects.

In the study, the researchers conducted pre- and post-federal election telephone surveys on voting intentions with 110 Canadians daily during the 36-day campaign in 1997. They also analysed tone and the amount of news coverage each party received on four national networks as well as issues raised during the leaders' debates.

In the pre-election survey, the researchers found half of the respondents were undecided at the start of the campaign. Of this group, 26 per cent who favoured a specific party before the campaign, ended up voting for it. Over three-quarters of the other group (the decided voters) stayed with their initial choice. Researchers also found men generally had decided which party to vote for prior to the start of the campaign while women and young people made up their minds during the campaign.

The study, published online in the November issue of Electoral Studies, was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture.

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CONTACT: Professor Neil Nevitte, Department of Political Science, 416-978-6298, nnevitte@chass.utoronto.ca or Sue Toye, U of T public affairs, 416-978-4289, sue.toye@utoronto.ca

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