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Does media attention lead to personal electoral success? Differences in long and short campaign media effects for top and ordinary political candidates


Although elections are not won in the media, scholars agree that media visibility impacts politicians’ electoral success. This study examines what effect media visibility has on the individual electoral success of all political candidates competing in PR-list system elections. We focus on media effects during the short and long campaign and investigate how these effects vary between types of candidates. We position media attention in a broader framework of factors influencing electoral success. Our findings show that for top candidates long campaign media attention predicts their electoral success, whereas for ordinary candidates attention during the short campaign matters most. Candidates also differ regarding indirect media effects, which is reflected especially in the gender bias of the media. Therefore, future research ought to be aware of candidate differences and temporal dynamics when inferring the electoral effects of media coverage. Overall, our findings indicate that the choices journalists make to report about some politicians and not about others have an actual impact on the electoral outcome and political careers.

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Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    There is a discussion about whether to use party magnitude of the same election or party magnitude of the previous election. In this paper we use the former. However, a robustness check with party magnitude of the previous election gives similar results.

  2. 2.

    Note that this means that we do not look at the number of list votes a party receives, but only the number of preferential votes.

  3. 3.

    We have no indication of any multicollinearity problems between the short and long campaign in the analyses.

  4. 4.

    We are aware of alternative methods to analyze mediation such as described by Imai et al. (2010). However, since we analyze multiple mediations at the same time, we employ SEM instead.

  5. 5.

    Note that using GSEM (or clustered standard errors for that matter) makes it impossible to retrieve fit indices. Therefore, we estimated our model fit using a normal SEM model without clustered standard errors. Considering that both models are derived from the same correlation matrices, and the specification of both models is similar, we would argue this is the most correct way to handle this problem. For top candidates, the fit indices are as follow: χ²(5)=4.04, p=0.54, RMSEA=0.00 (90%-CI: 0.00–0.074), CFI=1.000. For ordinary candidates, we get the following fit indices: χ²(3)=3.60, p=0.31, RMSEA=0.017 (90% CI:0.00-0.068), CFI=1.000.

  6. 6.

    \(e^{{\left( {\log \left( {\frac{100 + 10}{100}} \right)} \right).053}}\).

  7. 7.

    \(e^{{\left( {.171} \right)}}\).

    Fig. 2

    Direct and indirect effects of gender and minority status for top (left) and ordinary (right) candidates

  8. 8.

    \(e^{{\left( {2.66 * .323 * .011} \right)}} + e^{{\left( {1.434 * .011} \right)}}\).

    Fig. 3

    Direct and indirect effects of political experience for top (left) and ordinary (right) candidates

  9. 9.

    Ideally, we would have performed a third sensitivity test in which we further distinguish the list puller from other candidates or make three categories. Unfortunately, this is not possible given the fact that we would not have enough statistical power for the SEM analysis.


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The authors thank Luzia Helfer, Shanto Iyengar, Anthony Mughan, and Annemarie Walter for their useful comments on earlier versions of the paper.


This work was supported by the Research Foundation Flanders under Grant Number G026513N.

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Correspondence to Patrick F. A. van Erkel.

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van Erkel, P.F.A., Van Aelst, P. & Thijssen, P. Does media attention lead to personal electoral success? Differences in long and short campaign media effects for top and ordinary political candidates. Acta Polit 55, 156–174 (2020).

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  • Preferential votes
  • Media
  • Elections
  • Campaigns
  • Structural equation modelling