Party leaders in the media and voting behavior: Priming rather than learning or projection

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The prominence of party leaders in the media is one of the presumed causes of leader effects (i.e., the influence of party leader evaluation on the voting decision). Yet there is scant knowledge of the relationship between attention for party leaders in the news and the weight of party leader evaluations in the voting decision. This study fills this research gap by examining the effect of exposure to personalized coverage on the weight of party leader evaluations in the voting decision. Based on priming theory, exposure to personalized coverage is expected to make voters weigh leader evaluations more heavily in their vote decision. The study is based on a content analysis of the coverage of the 2010 Dutch election campaign and an 11-wave panel survey. Therewith the hypotheses are tested in a dynamic natural media environment. The analyses demonstrate that leader effects do occur. Voters use leader evaluations in their voting decision, even when controlling for the lagged vote, party evaluations, and issue agreement. Our data also support the hypothesis that personalized media coverage primes personalized voting behavior, even when controlling for learning and projection. Voters weigh leader evaluations more heavily in their vote decision and party evaluations and issue agreement less heavily when they are exposed to more personalized coverage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-267
Number of pages19
JournalPolitical Communication
Volume32
Issue number2
Early online date4 Feb 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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