Media in Elections

Published 16 Dec 2016

Media plays a vital role in the development of our national politics than most of the people realize. Media helps in defining the major issues and acts as a gatekeeper in setting limits for political dialogue and even candidacies for public office. One of the major example of a candidate who knows how to play within the media’s rules and later use them to their own advantage is Barack Obama. Writer at EssayLab write best essay for students.

The media can also play a major role to veto the candidates such as in the case of John Edwards. He led his rivals in introducing a severe health care plan, and questionably transformed the contest in his appeal to the Democratic base on that and also other issues. But the media still rejects Edward, by ignoring him and by covering more of negative reporting than the other key contenders. The same incident had also occurred with Howard Dean in 2004, who rallied the Democratic base but later on found himself about six times in many negative articles covered by the media than his opponents.

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The media does way much more than to directly control the opinion of the voters. Most of the politicians, institutions and other political participants will not bother wasting resources on a candidate they think is unlikely to win. The voters often look at how the media is treating the candidate in order to come to a decision. If the media is not taking a certain candidate seriously or is unreceptive to the candidate, those potential supporters will look somewhere else. So, obviously how the media portrays a candidate plays a very important role in the mind of the voters.

Until lately, the sole medium was the printed press. It had a limited reach only because functional literacy was in minority. But since then times have definitely changed, now elections are dominated by the television, a development which can be traced back in time to 1960 which showed the first television debate between US presidential candidates. But this view point is partially correct. The majority of the world’s populations does not even watch television as they have no electricity or can not afford to buy one. Nor is this only a phenomenon of dictatorships – the world’s largest democracy, after all, is India. For such countries, radio remains the most important medium.

Election campaigns are obviously a very special case of political communication, defined by Wolton as “the space in which contradictory discourse is exchanged between three actors with the legitimate right to express themselves in public on politics, namely politicians, journalists and public opinion” ( 1990). As stated by Mickiewicz and Firestone (1992), during an election campaign in a democratic culture, each of these have different interests: The candidate is interested in reaching the electorate; the media take an interest in elections as journalists and as media; and the public is interested in receiving the information necessary to participate knowledgeably in an election.

Assuming that they are not associated with any political parties and are not dedicated to furthering any political foundation, the media’s welfare can be further defined in terms of three goals: first, to serve the candidates and the audience by making available facilities for direct access by candidates to airtime or news and/or opinion and editorial pages of newspapers and periodicals, as provided for by electoral law and dictated by the newsworthiness and importance of an election in broad: secondly, to provide the audience by covering the election campaign and providing additional information, background, analysis, and commentary which help the audience make an informed choice on polling day; and third, to avoid being caught in political controversies or becoming a battleground for competing parties, and to avoid compromising their credibility by biased or unbalanced coverage of the campaign.

This approach views media performance in elections in terms of the purposive action of their managerial and editorial staff, that is, of the media organization itself. This is just one way of looking at the issue, however, because the mass media play several distinctly different roles in elections. As communication media, their generic properties and structural characteristics have by themselves helped remake the shape of election campaigns and have, in general, played an important role in shaping the political process. The media also are channels for communicating ideas and images existing or created independently of themselves, that is, channels of communication between the politicians and the public (hopefully this will be two-way communication) and among the politicians themselves.

Politicians seek to reach out to the public with their images, election platforms, and views on election issues; in turn, the public in various ways voices, to and through the media, its views on the candidates and parties contesting the election. Similarly, the candidates respond to messages spread by other politicians and directly or indirectly engage in a debate with them. And, of course, the media also function as communicators, originating messages and images and introducing them into social discourse, that is, as initiators of political communication and as communicators of their own messages (e.g., coverage and analysis of the campaign, staging of debates, interviews with candidates conducted at the media’s own initiative).

Recognition of the media’s role in elections as communicators raises a new set of issues concerning their ability to act independently in that capacity. There seems to be widespread acceptance in the literature of the view that the impetus which decides what role the media will play comes largely from outside the media system. If so, their role in the political process may turn out to be secondary and derivative in many cases.

However, the media’s ability to affect the voters in other ways is limited. We could thus say that the media’s influence on election results is in inverse proportion to the gravity of issues facing the voters, the stakes involved for them personally in the election result, and the extent of their political commitment. Therefore, the more that depends on the outcome of the election for the voters personally, the more interested they will be in the issues, the more intense their political commitment will be, and the less they will need to rely on the media to make sense of the dilemmas involved or to make up their mind who to support.

As a general rule, this means that the content delivered by the media, and especially television, in their role as channels and communicators, can be a relatively powerful force at election time in societies marked by a general social consensus on the shape of the country’s political and economic system (this is usually a feature of stable, prosperous, and democratic societies). In such circumstances, the general level of political awareness and commitment in society will be low, and there will not be a fundamental difference between the election platforms of leading contenders or much at stake in the outcome of the election for most voters personally. Therefore, receptivity to media-delivered and media-originated information and persuasive messages may be high. And conversely, where these conditions do not obtain, this receptivity may be low.


  • Wolton D. (1990). “Political communication: The construction of a model”. European Journal of Communication, 5( 1), 9-28.
  • Mickiewicz E., & Firestone C. ( 1992). Television and elections. Queenstown, Md.: The Aspen Institute.
  • Swerdlow J. L. (Ed.). ( 1988). Media technology and the vote: A source book. Washington, D.C.: The Annenberg Washington Program.
  • Abramson J. B., Arterton E. C., & Orren C. R. ( 1988). The electronic commonwealth. New York: Basic Books.
  • Gurevitch M., & Blumler J. G. ( 1983). Linkages between the mass media and politics: A model for the analysis of political communication systems. In J. Curran, M. Gurevitch , & J. Woollacott (Eds.), Mass communication and society (pp. 270-290). London: Edward Arnold.
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