Why newspapers were a bit slow to respond to Layton’s big surge

'It’s possible they thought the first poll was an anomaly'

Jack Layton made history last week when a CROP poll showed the NDP in first place in Quebec. It was the kind of shift that would surely alter media coverage overnight (and the results of his Federal Election Newspaper Analysis along with it), thought McGill University political scientist Stuart Soroka. “I thought Layton was going to spike in the volume of coverage and that the coverage was going to be more positive,” says Soroka, who has been crunching his numbers for Maclean’s each week. But his usual analysis, which captured 665 stories written from April 18 to April 24, showed only tiny increases for Layton. He was baffled.

But the results for Easter Sunday and Monday showed a clear shift. “The media was just slow to adjust,” says Soroka. “It’s possible they thought the first poll was an anomaly.” On Sunday and Monday, Layton’s share of “first mentions” (a tally of how often a leader’s name comes first in a story) doubled from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. While Ignatieff was up a tiny bit over the previous week—from 19 per cent to 21 per cent—Harper lost the most, falling from 66 per cent to 55 per cent.

The “net tone” results (more positive words near a leader’s name in articles equates to a higher score) also show an initially slow, but then sudden shift in favour of Layton. All three English party leaders earned slightly more negative press last week, but on Sunday and Monday, the media turned on Harper and Ignatieff. Harper’s net tone score dove from 0.77 last week to 0.54. Ignatieff plummeted from 0.84 to 0.49. Layton, on the other hand, improved from 1.27 to 1.55.

More telling is the sheer number of times Layton’s name appeared in print on Sunday and Monday. He went from 0.5 mentions to 1.2 per article, tying him with Ignatieff for the first time. And though he still trails Harper, who’s at 1.9 per article, Layton is suddenly impossible to ignore.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.