The election campaign’s invisible women

Tabloid Square

A quarter of electoral candidates, less than a tenth of the media coverage: women are largely invisible in the general election campaign, unless they are married to the Prime Minister.

The Fawcett Society has received some great anecdotal evidence of sexist news coverage of the election through our campaign  #viewsnotshoes but now we have the first results of our rigorous academic work analysing media coverage of the election.

The study analyses coverage in the media, examining the reporting of male and female politicians from 16 March to 11 April. This is the period spanning two weeks before parliament ended and the first two weeks of the official general election campaign.

Of the seven major parties contesting the election in England, Wales and Scotland, more than a quarter of the candidates are women (27.4%) yet the coverage overwhelmingly features men: 92% of articles featured just men; 92% of politicians quoted were men; and 95% of accompanying photographs featured male politicians. In the articles we studied The Daily Express did not picture or quote a single woman politician.

In one full week of the campaign (6-10 April), Samantha Cameron received more coverage than Harriet Harman or Theresa May or, indeed, mentions of the issue of childcare. The Daily Telegraph featured Samantha Cameron four times but failed to mention Theresa May or Harriet Harman at all.

So, in an election period, our media have concentrated more on a woman who is not standing for office herself but is married to someone who is, rather than the two leading women politicians of the two main parties, or one of the most important issues for women in this election.

Following the opposition leaders’ debate, press coverage for Nicola Sturgeon was comparable with that of Farage and Miliband, although Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett received far less coverage. But the tenor of the coverage about Nicola Sturgeon was noticeably hostile. For example, writing in the Sun, Katie Hopkins said, “The sooner she is back ranting and raving at knee height in Scotland, the happier I will be.” The Daily Mail said, ‘”Today, Nicola Sturgeon is the most dangerous woman in British politics.”

The analysis has looked at election articles from 16 March to 11 April in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Sun, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail. It is being carried out by Heather Savigny from Bournemouth University, Deirdre O’Neill, Huddersfield University and Orlanda Ward, University College London.

Sampling over a 3-week period was as follows:

  • In the first week Telegraph and Guardian, 16 Mar – 21 Mar
  • In the next week The Sun and Mirror, 30 March – 4 April
  • In the third week Express and Mail, 7 April – 11 April

Analysis will continue up until the election so look out for our update.

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