Election press coverage stats special

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What political slogans were picked up most during the election campaign? Which leaders did the press focus on and who did the papers ignore? What issues were talked about and which weren’t?

This is an election press coverage stats special – an analysis of press coverage from Tuesday 6th April when the campaign started, to Thursday 6th of May when it finished. The stats are based on articles published in the national press (online) and on the BBC news website – using data from journalisted.com.

The slogans

Gordon Brown’s manifesto pledge of a ‘future fair for all’ made it into only 82 articles. By contrast, David Cameron’s pitch for a ‘big society’, though it may not have convinced the columnists or a majority of the electorate, was referred to in 480 news articles (almost 400 more than his other pledge to help the ‘great ignored’, referred to in 91 articles). ‘Old politics’, a favourite phrase of Nick Clegg, was mentioned in 168 articles.

The leaders (and spouses)

Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were each referenced in over 3,000 articles (‘Cleggmania’ made it into 166 articles). Translated into percentages their coverage equated to – Labour 39%: Conservative 35%: Lib Dem 27% (a distribution Gordon Brown would have been much happier with).

Coverage of the leaders of the other parties was, unsurprisingly, significantly lower:

  • Only 60 articles mentioned Ieuan Wyn Jones, the leader of Plaid Cymru;
  • Compared to 420 articles that referred to Alex Salmond, head of the Scottish National Party;
  • 161 articles talked about Nick Griffin, head of the BNP;
  • 135 articles mentioned Nigel Farage – ex-leader of UKIP and its representative for Buckingham who survived a plane crash on polling day, and;
  • There were 105 articles referring to Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party and its first British Member of Parliament.

Still, only Alex Salmond managed to gain more coverage than Sarah Brown (182 articles), with Samantha Cameron not much less covered (154 articles). Miriam Clegg only found herself in the limelight in the final stages (26 articles).

The politicians

The Conservatives’ ‘decapitation strategy’ to depose Ed Balls helped raise his profile – he was mentioned in 583 articles, more than anyone else in the Brown cabinet except deus-ex-machina Lord Mandelson (747 articles).

Balls was also higher profile than Labour’s other election campaign co-ordinators, Douglas Alexander (123 articles) and Harriet Harman (263 articles).

He was not, however, covered as widely as the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, who – despite a very low profile during the campaign – appeared in 701 articles. This was more than his Lib Dem counterpart Vince Cable (624 articles) and the actual chancellor, Alistair Darling (535 articles).

The spin doctors…

… managed, for the most part, to remain hidden. Andy Coulson made an appearance early in the campaign, and articles about what he knew about phone tapping while editor of News of the World rumbled in the background. But this translated into a total of 59 articles over the month – vs Alastair Campbell in 167. Less even than Charlie Whelan, Brown’s ex-spin doctor who now heads the union Unite, who appeared in 69 articles during the campaign.

Lena Pietsch, Nick Clegg’s press spokesperson, was not covered until the Clegg bounce, after which she appeared in 8 articles (including the Daily Mail, the Guardian and the Independent) – 6 fewer than John Sharkey, Clegg’s strategic communications adviser who, according to Th
e Sun, wrote the Lib Dem leader’s TV debate strategy.

The issues

The economy was the chief battleground on which all three main parties fought. 595 articles talked about ‘austerity’, a favourite Cameron term. 390 articles referred to ‘tax credits’, thanks in part to frequent reference to them by Gordon Brown in the latter stages of the campaign.

Electoral reform’, that became such a significant issue after the election, was also one during it – discussed in 459 articles. 302 of these referred to the ‘first past the post’ system currently used in the UK, as opposed to 283 articles that talked about ‘proportional representation’.

Political issues that excited editors and commentators included: inflation (815 articles), spending cuts (770 articles), immigrants (713 articles), budget deficit (468 articles), ‘black hole‘ (177 articles).

Issues that failed to ignite during the campaign: Sure Start (a respectable, but hardly campaign leading 131 articles), ‘broken Britain’ (63 articles), ‘NHS spending’ (36 articles), ‘pensions timebomb’ (6 articles).

Gillian Duffy, the Rochdale grandmother Gordon Brown described as bigoted, distracted media coverage for about 4 days. Duffy was referred to in a total of 438 articles.

The likely outcome

Hung parliament’ became something of an obsession of the political press during the campaign (rightly as it turned out), being referred to in 1,884 articles. 234 articles speculated about the nature of a ‘minority government’. 202 articles talked about ‘tactical voting’.

New polls emerged daily and sometimes even more frequently. In the battle of the pollsters YouGov came out top with 476 articles, followed by ComRes on 283 articles, ICM on 246 articles, Mori on 168 articles, and Populus on 165 articles.

Unable to predict a clear outcome, animated by the first UK television debates, and spooked by the poll bounce of Nick Clegg, the press appeared more excited by this election campaign than the two previous. There were certainly few reports of ‘apathy’ or ‘boredom’.

The numbers can, of course, only ever tell part of the story. They miss the ebb and flow of comment, analysis and endorsements, the occasional contortions of the press, and the rising hysteria of some papers in the final fortnight. But that’s for another blogpost.

Written by Martin Moore

May 10th, 2010 at 6:41 am

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2 Responses to 'Election press coverage stats special'

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  1. Excellent analysis and context, great stuff

    Jason Grant

    11 May 10 at 9:03 am

  2. Thanks Jason, much appreciate it (we've also started doing a weekly analysis every Tuesday at journalisted.com)

    Martin Moore

    11 May 10 at 9:57 am

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