March 24, 2010

When Overseas Elections Make News

% of Newshole
Iran June 15-21 2009 28
Afghanistan Aug 17-23 2009 10
Kenya Dec 30, 07 Jan 4, 2008 5
Pakistan Feb 18-24 2008 5
Zimbabwe Mar 31- Apr 6, 2007 4
Iraq Mar 8-14 2010 3
France May 6-11 2007 3
Venezuela Dec 2-7 2007 2

#6 – Rank of the recent vote in Iraq among most-covered foreign elections

On March 7, Iraq held crucial parliamentary elections to determine the leadership of the fragile, fledgling democracy. And the results could have far-reaching implications for the U.S. considering President Obama’s pledge to withdrawal all combat forces by September 1. Still, the Iraqi election filled just 3% of the newshole from March 8-14, making it the sixth biggest foreign election story since PEJ began tracking media coverage in 2007. One reason for this may be the slow ballot counting and still inconclusive results of that election.

Generally speaking, overseas elections don’t generate major coverage in the mainstream U.S. press. The most notable exception was the June 12, 2009 presidential election in Iran that provoked serious internal unrest. Following the victory of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, protests erupted in support of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The government crackdown on demonstrators quickly turned violent and for the week of June 15–21, 2009, Iran was the most-covered story in the PEJ’s News Coverage Index, filling 28% of the overall newshole.

The No. 2 foreign election story was one that directly affected U.S. interests. The August 20, 2009 vote in Afghanistan that ultimately returned President Hamid Karzai to office filled 10% of the newshole from August 17-23, 2009.  Some of that attention reflected Obama’s call to make the country a strategic priority, linking it to the violence in Pakistan and increasing troop levels. But the story was also fueled by concerns about vote fraud and corruption.

The December 27, 2007 election in Kenya was the third-biggest story, filling 5% of the newshole from December 30, 2007-Janaury 4, 2008. Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, and alleged electoral manipulation, protests and widespread ethnic violence believed to have killed as many as 1,500 drove the narrative.

Another vote that generated attention was the February 18, 2008 presidential election in Pakistan—an election that came after political turmoil that included then-President Pervez Musharraf calling a state of emergency and the assassination of the main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. The election, which handed a resounding defeat to Musharraf’s party, filled 5% from February 18-24, 2008, making it the fourth most-covered foreign election.

Other overseas elections that made news included the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, in which the popular opposition candidate withdrew citing violence and incumbent Robert Mugabe was declared the winner, was No. 5, filling 4% of the newshole from March 31-April 6. The May 2007 French contest in which Nicolas Sarkozy defeated Ségolène Royal ranked seventh and filled 3% of the newshole from May 6-11, 2007. And the December 2007 vote in Venezuela when citizens rejected an end to term limits for President Hugo Chavez, was eighth at 2% of the newshole from December 2-7, 2007.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ