The mass media are central in providing citizens with information on political parties and issues. This study deals with the question of how the mass media link issues to parties in their news coverage. Such party–issue linkages in the media are crucial if parties want to gain or maintain ownership of political issues. The study tests hypotheses according to which journalists use parties’ issue emphases and issue positions as a heuristic to decide which party to give voice to when debating certain issues. It combines and analyzes datasets based on electoral programs and election news coverage of national elections in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK between 1991 and 2007. It finds that journalists link issues with parties that emphasized these issues in the past or increased their emphasis at the current election. In contrast, issue positioning does not effect party–issue linkages. These findings contradict past research on the reflection of parties’ issue emphasis in media coverage, and have important implications for parties’ issue strategies, party competition, and the role of mass media in democracy.
political parties issue emphasis electoral programs media coverage