The Conservative Party’s decision to push Theresa May as the centre-piece of its election campaign appears to be paying off as the Prime Minister dominates the media coverage of the battle in its first week.
An analysis by Loughborough University found that around a third of TV and press coverage featured the Tory leader, with Jeremy Corbyn the next most prominent figure, appearing in just over one-in-five items.
The university’s Centre for Research in Communication and Culture also discovered that May’s command of the media was such that her husband, Philip, was the fifth most featured figure as a result of their joint appearance on BBC 1’s The One Show. The audit, seen first by HuffPost UK, found he appeared more than SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and UKIP’s Paul Nuttall.
The Tory campaign has been so focussed on their leader that her name features more often than the party’s itself, with the Conservatives even adopting “Theresa May’s Team” as a sobriquet in official posters and briefings.
May and Corbyn’s appearances reflect how the two main party leaders have soaked up most of the media coverage, and suggests other parties are failing to break through. All the minor parties had a reduced presence in the first week of the campaign compared with the same period of the 2015 election.
This was most pronounced in press coverage, with the the SNP and UKIP the biggest losers. The Conservatives had 50.2% of the press coverage, compared to 35.6% in 2015, and the 35.3% of the TV coverage, a surge from 26.8% two years ago.
Below, TV and press coverage in 2015 compared to 2017.
On TV, the Conservative Party and Labour made similar levels of appearances.
In the press, Conservative appearances exceeded those of Labour by 17%.
On TV, the two main parties accounted for 70% of all party appearances.
In the press, the two main parties accounted for 84% of all party appearances.
The graphs below show how the smaller parties have lost ground to, notably, the Conservatives, and Labour.
The university suggests the “significant shifts” in the early coverage of the campaign could be a result of new regulations for broadcast news. In March, Ofcom scrapped ‘larger party’ status, which required a broadcaster to give more coverage to a party deemed to have met that criteria. It notes:
“This two party squeeze has been most pronounced in press coverage, where the Conservatives’ greater prominence in 2015 has been extended further. The list of the most frequently reported politicians shows the dominance of the two main party leaders, particularly the Prime Minister.
“A further measure of her news value is the amount of coverage given to her husband, Phillip May, following his appearance with her on the BBC One Show in mid-week. In contrast, the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, did not make the top twenty list of most frequently reported political figures.”
The academics also found that political process, once more, was the most dominant issue covered, with TV and press anxious to explain how the election worked and what the final ballot might mean for the prospects of each of the parties. “Election process” featured 38.1% of the time. Aside from that, the most prominent substantive issue - by a wide margin - was is Brexit.
The university says:
“So far the media attention in the General Election campaign has been largely focused on Brexit. The Conservatives have sought to use the issue to contrast the supposed desirability of Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable leadership’ with that on offer from Jeremy Corbyn.
“Conversely, the Labour Party have struggled to carve out a strong position on this. Other issues which the other parties have put forward on health, education, devolution, social security, housing and environment have received much less coverage.
“But these are early days and we will have to see whether Brexit continues to overshadow these and other issues.”
Loughborough University analysed all election news found in the television programmes. For the press, it included election news found on the front page, the first two pages of the domestic news section, the first two pages of any specialist election section and the page containing and facing the papers’ leader editorials.
Television: Channel 4 News (7pm), Channel 5 News (6.30pm), BBC1 News at 10, ITV1 News at 10, Sky News 8-8.30pm.
Press: The Guardian, The I, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Mirror, The Sun, The Star.