The suspense of the French presidential elections is coming to an end and the voters are still hesitating in this final round.
A recent report from the French Think Tank Fondapol revealed that 55 % of French people believed that the media had influenced negatively Marine Le Pen’s campaign whilst 46% believed that it had a positive impact on Emmanuel Macron’s campaign.
Does the media really influence the election?
Associate Professor at Swinburne University, Andrew Dodd believes that “the media play an important role in the issue and how they address and expose news”. Informing people means making a choice according to the agenda setting. Thus, some information benefits from a better coverage (including numerous follow up) compared to others. According to Dr Mitchell Hobbs, “the media does not tell you what to think but what to think about”. It highlights news according to its own agenda. Some candidates are more exposed than others.
In fact, the public does not have a very wide choice in terms of news during an election. The media tends to stick together according to their coverage (e.g: every media dealt with the Penelopegate).
The theory known as the Spiral of Silence was developed in 1974 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. In her opinion, people are highly sensitive to their social environment and how they are perceived by others. It is easier for them to discuss what is seen in the media in order for them to conform to the public opinion. A person whose personal beliefs are not aligned with what the majority thinks will tend to remain silent. In the case social pressure is too overwhelming, some people could even change their mind and adopt everybody else’s opinion. In this regard, the media could easily influence their audience. But nowadays mass-media have lost in popularity and people turn to other platforms to get information: the social media.
“People are not conscious of the fact that they are being manipulated by social media. It selects what they have to read” said Andrew Dodd. Facebook is well known for its algorithm. The feed received on social media ensues directly from previous reading / liking. People are trapped in this algorithm and receive only the same kind of post. The access to different information is then limited.
Another element needs to be taken into consideration: polls. It offers an overview of what people intend to vote and it can “motivate people to turn out if their candidate is behind”. People change their intention because they are convinced their candidate will not reach the top. It is the case of Anais About who voted Fillon in the first round instead of her favourite candidate Dupont-Aignan because “he was a too small candidate”.
Media, social-media and polls are playing an important role in a presidential campaign. Candidates use them to promote their ideas and reach a bigger audience. But the media do not tell the public who to vote. Every voter comes from a different cultural background, family and those cultural factors play a major role during the elections. People’s vote is very often influenced by their primary social circle (family, friends…).
Alone in front of the ballot box, people do make their own choice and it is not always based on the media’s forecast (e.g: the Brexit or the French European referendum in 2005).