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Media covering horserace more, issues less, prof says

The media appear to be paying even less attention than usual to issues in this election campaign, Simon Fraser University communications researcher Kathleen Cross said.

Cross is studying media coverage of the federal election campaign. Her preliminary research suggests that the national media are more interested in polls and campaign strategy than they were during past campaigns, she told The Tyee.

“Media tends to spend a lot of time on the horse race,” she said.

Depending on the campaign and depending on which research you look at, anywhere from 60 to 75 per cent of campaign coverage is concerned with questions like “how’s the campaign going, what are the gaffes, what’s going on with polling, what’s the strategy,” Cross said.

While the print media tend to be better than TV about discussing issues, even the newspapers that Cross’s researchers have been examining have focused on “sweaters, polls and gaffes,” she said.

Most people get their political information from the news and few have the time or inclination to read the platforms on party websites. This means that the media play an important role in the political process.

There is credible academic research that indicates an overemphasis on horse race politics has negative effects on voters, Cross said.

For one thing, it tends to make people more cynical about politics. If politics is presented as being mostly about strategy, then people come to believe that it’s merely a game, and therefore meaningless.

“It’s also one of the reasons some have suggested that the voter turnout is decreasing, especially in the young,” Cross said.

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor at The Tyee.

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