How Race Affects the Media's Coverage of Candidates in Canadian Politics
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This study examines how race affects the media’s coverage of candidates in Canadian politics. Situated in the literature on political communication, gendered mediation and race studies, it proposes a new theory of racial mediation, which posits that politics are covered in ways that reflect the assumption of whiteness as standard. Although candidate self-presentation does influence media portrayals, this alone does not account for differences in the framing of candidates’ policy interests, viability and socio-demographic characteristics. The project argues that candidate race has a significant but subtle impact on media portrayals. Articles from the print media coverage of the 2008 Canadian election are analyzed using a hand-coded content analysis, which is replicated through an innovative automated approach. The study finds that visible minority candidates’ coverage is more negative and less prominent than that of their White counterparts. It is less likely to focus on key electoral issues and much more likely to emphasize socio-demographic background. Visible minority candidates are held to a higher standard and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they are portrayed as less viable and credible than their competitors. Gender can amplify these effects, with raced and gendered discourses characterizing the coverage of visible minority women. The media study is complemented by 40 elite interviews that probe candidates’ communication strategies, issue emphasis and self-presentation, as well as reporters’ negotiation of these elements in their construction of news stories. While there are visible minority candidates who emphasize elements of their ethnocultural heritage, my findings suggest that few rely only on racialized strategies, nor are White candidates immune from racialized appeals. Nonetheless, journalists struggle to adequately portray nuance and candidates’ multi-dimensionality. They employ familiar narratives and tropes, and generally only seize on racialized framing when it applies to visible minority candidates. Although the study does not provide a direct test of media effects on vote choice, it draws on existing literature to argue that because media coverage influences the ways that voters evaluate issues and develop schema for understanding the world around them, the portrayal of visible minority candidates has the potential to alter electoral opportunities and outcomes. As a result, racialized coverage and race continue to matter in Canadian politics.