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Date of Award

3-1998

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Supervisor

Professor John Fox

Abstract

I examined coverage of the 1997 Canadian federal election by 14 media organizations (including three television networks and 11 regionally important newspapers), analysing the relative importance of major election issues, and evaluating the reporting of the technical details of pre-election polls. The media played a passive role in covering the election, seldom evaluating party platforms, and emphasizing only those issues that the leaders of the major political parties introduced into the campaign. National unity dominated media coverage despite public opinion polls initially showing that voters had little interest in the issue. Only the NDP stressed health care and job creation - issues that the electorate considered most important - but the NDP was afforded less coverage than the other major parties, and the coverage of these issues suffered as a result. Election coverage was also characterized by a an emphasis on pre-election polls, where recently released poll results set the tone of coverage for other election stories. An analysis of the methods of 17 Canadian polling firms showed that there was much similarity in their survey practices. All firms used some form of probability sampling, and none used substandard methods, lending legitimacy to the media's reporting of pre-election polls. The emphasis on polling results was accompanied by poor technical reporting, however. Finally, I examined published polling data for the five month period prior to the election to chart the dynamics of the campaign. I found that two events - the election call and the televised leaders' debates - apparently affected trends in voting intentions. During the course of the campaign, the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois experienced a decline in support, while Reform Party and PC Party enjoyed increases in support. PC support seems to have been buoyed by the popularity of its leader, Jean Charest, following his performance in the English-language leaders' debate.

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