Female politicians getting fair shake in media coverage

June 1, 2015

Two separate studies draw similar conclusions

OTTAWA, June 1, 2015 — Two separate studies on women, politics and the media say female politicians are doing just fine when it comes to getting into the news.

One study analyzed the The Globe and Mail’s coverage of women in 13 federal political party leadership contests between 1975 and 2012; the other looked at television and newspaper coverage of the 2014 Ontario provincial election. Both are being presented at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa.

Neither study found evidence that female politicians were being disadvantaged in the media by reason of their gender.

The study of The Globe and Mail looked at 30 federal leadership candidates—11 female and 19 male—with an eye to understanding the extent to which a candidate’s gender influenced the coverage they received. While the study found that female candidates were half as likely as male candidates to have their name appear in a story, once their names got into the news, women candidates were slightly more prominent than men. “When things are equal between men and women, women have a slight edge,” says Angelia Wagner, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta who worked on the leadership study. “Candidate gender is not a major hindrance or a resource in securing media prominence.”

Wagner says what was more important to coverage was the extent to which a candidate was perceived as ‘competitive’—in other words, whether the candidate was seen as having a chance of winning. Wagner says that if a female candidate was thought to have a serious chance of winning, the coverage she got was as good as that for a male candidate in a similar position. “What the results tell us is that journalists are looking at objective factors like polling results,” she says. “Candidate competitiveness is the key value for journalists.” She adds that if gender does come into play, it would have to happen earlier in the political process, at the level where competitiveness is determined.

The second study examined coverage of the 2014 Ontario provincial election by looking at news reports on CBC and CTV television, and in three Toronto dailies: the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and National Post. Lydia Miljan, an associate professor in political science at the University of Windsor and one of the study’s authors, says gender-based bias did not show up in the media studied. In the past, says Miljan, there was sometimes subtle bias—for example when female candidates were referred to by their first names, while men were called by their last names. “We didn’t find that in this campaign,” says Miljan. And while past research has suggested that female candidates didn’t get as much coverage when it comes to policy, “we didn’t find that to be the case.”

Miljan says all this bodes well for women in politics. But, she adds, the message has to get out. “There’s a myth that women don’t get a fair shake when it comes to coverage,” she says. “I think we need to change that narrative and say that the media will treat women as well —or as badly—as men. So, fear of media coverage shouldn’t be a barrier to keep women from politics.”

Angelia Wagner and Lydia Miljan will be presenting their research on June 3 at the 2015 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. This panel event will include several other researchers, is called “Barriers to Women's Entry into Politics” and will take place at 8:45 am on the University of Ottawa campus in the VNR building, room 1075.

— 30 —

About the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress is the largest interdisciplinary conference in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. Now in its 84th year, Congress brings together 70+ academic associations that represent a rich spectrum of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including literature, history, theatre, film studies, education, music, sociology, geography, social work and many others. Congress 2015 is hosted by the University of Ottawa. For more information, visit www.congress2015.ca.

About the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences promotes research, learning and an understanding of the contributions made by the humanities and the social sciences towards a free and democratic society. Established in 1940, with a membership now comprising 160+ universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 85,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. The Federation organizes Canada’s largest academic gathering, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, bringing together more than 8,000 participants each year. For more information, visit www.ideas-idees.ca.

Media inquiries

Nicola Katz

Communications Manager

Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Cell: 613-282-3489