Mediated Leader Effects: The Impact of Newspapers’ Portrayal of Party Leadership on Electoral Support

Loes Aaldering*, Tom van der Meer, Wouter Van der Brug

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Conventional wisdom holds that party leaders matter in democratic elections. As very few voters have direct contact with party leaders, media are voters’ primary source of information about these leaders and, thus, the likely origin of leader effects on party support. Our study focuses on these supposed electoral effects of the media coverage of party leaders. We examine the positive and negative effects of specific leadership images in Dutch newspapers on vote intentions. To this end, we combine an extensive automated content analysis of leadership images in the media with a panel data set, the Dutch 1Vandaag Opinion Panel (1VOP), consisting of more than fifty thousand unique respondents and 110 waves of interviews conducted between September 2006 and September 2012. The results confirm that media coverage of party leaders’ character traits affects voters: Positive mediated leadership images increase support for the leader’s party, while negative images decrease this support. However, this influence is not unconditional: During campaign periods, positive leadership images have a stronger effect, while negative images no longer have an impact on subsequent vote intentions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-94
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Press/Politics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • content analysis
  • election campaign
  • media effects
  • panel data
  • political leadership
  • voting behavior
  • Western Europe


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