Is all PR good PR? How the content of media exposure affects candidate popularity

Peter Egge Langsæther, Haakon Gjerløw, and Martin G. Søyland

Electoral Studies, Vol. 57. 2019.


Existing evidence shows that media exposure is associated with increased political popularity, but we know less about how the electoral effects of media coverage may vary with the content of the coverage. By collecting hundreds of thousands of media articles, which we then sort by content using automatic topic modelling, we build a unique dataset of political candidates, their popularity, and the quantity and type of media exposure that candidates receive. Analysing this dataset, we find that media attention is, indeed, an electoral asset. Further, and crucially, we find that voters reward politicians for politically relevant exposure, while non-political exposure is ignored, or even penalised. Consequently, this is good news for how democracies work; voters hold politicians accountable based on relevant information. The findings are of relevance to students of media, political behaviour, parties and political competition, as well as normative democratic theory.