The Whole World Is Watching: Comparing European and United States News Coverage of the U.S. 2008 and 2016 Elections

Peter Van Aelst, Rens Vliegenthart, Amber E. Boydstun


United States presidential election campaigns provide a unique opportunity to study how media in different countries cover the same “international” event. Although campaign research is flourishing, it is unclear to what extent U.S. and European media cover campaigns differently. Therefore, this study analyzes how the U.S. press covered both the 2008 and 2016 campaigns in comparison with the press in 6 West European countries. We analyze 2 central characteristics of campaign coverage: (1) the tone or degree of negativity and (2) the substantial nature of the coverage. Our results confirm that substantial issue coverage is low, and a negative view of candidates and the campaign is prevailing. Although there is variation in the coverage within and between the countries under study, structural differences between the press in the U.S. and Europe are almost absent. In line with the idea of media convergence, this suggests that we can no longer distinguish the campaign coverage of U.S. and European newspapers. We argue that shared news values and the specific context of campaigns determine news coverage across the board.


election campaigns, comparative research, content analysis

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