The Media and the Candidates

23 February 2022

Parties no longer count for much. Elections hinge on personalities, or at any rate personae, and public personae are created by the media. So I thought it would be interesting to take a quantitative look at the articles generated by the press about the candidates in the presidential election. Since I’ve built a multilingual database of articles from the major European newspapers, I had a source of data ready to hand. Here’s what I found.

Looking first at articles about right-wing candidates on a monthly basis since September of last year:

What you see here is, first, how the Zemmour phenomenon has dominated coverage of the right. There are more articles about Zemmour in every period. Second, Pécresse attracted little attention until she became, surprisingly, the LR candidate. Before that, Bertrand was attracting twice as much press. When Pécresse and Ciotti finished 1 and 2 in the early December primary, they attracted more attention, but so did Zemmour, who formally announced in the same period and easily outstripped Pécresse. He remains in the lead to this day, although today’s Libé story that Pécresse may have tampered with the primary vote could increase coverage of her candidacy, not necessarily to her benefit. Surprisingly, Le Pen seems to be old news. She was nearly neck-and-neck with Zemmour in September but then dropped precipitously and never really recovered–in coverage. But she’s still ahead of her rivals by a nose in the polls.

Meanwhile, here is the picture of the left:

Here, what is interesting is that the coverage is dispersed, and no candidate can match even half the coverage rate of 400-500 articles per month devoted to Zemmour. All the excitement is on the right, because the conventional wisdom is that only one of the three right-wing challengers has a chance of making it into round 2. Note, too, that Taubira went from no notice at all to parity with the other candidates after the so-called People’s Primary. And Roussel has picked up the pace recently, while Hidalgo, despite or perhaps because of her dismal poll numbers, continues to hold her own in press coverage.

Finally, what about the still-unannounced frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron? Just for laughs I threw a couple of other names into the mix: Castex, Le Maire, Woerth, Philippe. To be sure, Macron is president, so his coverage is not really comparable to anyone else’s. He is in the news almost every day, ex officio, as it were. But here is the graph:

As you can see, Macron’s average monthly article count is 1.5-2 times as high as Zemmour, his nearest competitor. The graph shows what a non-entity Castex is as prime minister: there’s frequently more written about Philippe, who has been out of office for quite a while, and about his subordinate Le Maire. But Macron, love him or hate him, is the man about whom the media are talking.

Of course this is only a very partial picture. The print media don’t shape the campaign as much as the visual media, and TV is really Zemmour’s medium par excellence.

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