The Consequences of Strategic News Coverage for Democracy: A Meta-Analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most dominant ways of covering politics in the media is by focusing on politicians’ strategies for gaining public support and their positions at the polls. The conventional wisdom is that this tendency—usually referred to as strategic, horse race, or game coverage—has negative consequences for democracy because it increases political alienation. Others argue, however, that the public’s attraction to strategic coverage improves knowledge about issues and encourages civic engagement. This study examines the consequences of strategic coverage by performing a meta-analysis of published and unpublished studies. Based on 54 findings from 32 studies and 38,658 respondents, I show that across studies and contexts, strategic coverage increases political cynicism (d = 0.32), reduces substance-based political knowledge (d = −0.31), and discourages positive evaluations regarding the news items (d = −0.22). However, there is no evidence that this coverage erodes participation. These findings correspond with scholars’ previous concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-25
Number of pages23
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • game frame
  • horse race
  • meta-analysis
  • strategic coverage
  • strategy frame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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