Symbols of priority? How the media selectively report on parties' election campaigns

Greene, Zachary and Lühiste, Maarja (2018) Symbols of priority? How the media selectively report on parties' election campaigns. European Journal of Political Research, 57 (3). pp. 717-739. ISSN 0304-4130 (

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Leaders and MPs serve as the party’s public face. Their image casts a shadow in which observers interpret policy statements. We hypothesize that media cover and voters understand policy messages through the lens of prominent party members' characteristics. Easy-to-observe descriptive traits, such as gender or ethnicity, cue parties' policy priorities. Media are more likely to emphasize party messages on issues historically related to these groups when they are visible in the party's public image. We test hypotheses from our theory using data on prominent party members' descriptive characteristics, policy statements, and media coverage of statements from the European Election Studies. Data from the 1999, 2004 and 2009 European elections evidence support for our theory. Parties with more female representatives signal stronger emphasis on gendered issues in media reports. The results hold implications for our understanding of the ways in which parties deliver and voters receive campaign messages. This research offers an explanation for voters' limited knowledge of parties' policy positions; media reinforce existing gender stereotypes and voters' pre-dispositions by selectively reporting policy statements.