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US election 2020: a toolkit for ‘democracy-worthy’ coverage for journalists

As election day approaches in the US, journalists around the world are working in the most challenging environment of their lifetimes.

This will be no ordinary election, not only because COVID-19 has changed the way Americans vote, with 45 million ballots already cast by mail, but also because the US president, Donald Trump, has repeatedly challenged the validity of the vote and declined to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses.

While his Republican party prepares blanket legal challenges anticipating an election loss, a bitter political battle is brewing in the Supreme Court, the country’s highest legal institution, which played a key role in adjudicating the 2000 election.

All of which means that how journalists cover the run-up and, especially, the aftermath of the election will be crucial for American democracy – and the ideal of democracy around the world. What we demand of journalists, and what news we decide to read and share, will be essential as well.

Both the press and the public must answer hard questions: how to discuss controversies around the vote and what to do if the result is unclear, or a candidate does not concede? And what if civil unrest ensues after the vote?

Thankfully, decades of research and expertise can help guide decisions in these unprecedented times.

British media are very popular and influential in the US and they can play an important role in shaping how the American public will interpret the election and its aftermath. The BBC could well play a big role. Research has shown that 58% of Americans say they trust the broadcaster and 12% get at least some of their news from it each week.

UK newspapers also have the potential to be influential players: in March 2020 the Guardian US recorded more than 114 million unique visits while the Daily Mail online attracts an estimated 73 million monthly unique visits in the US. Meanwhile, most readers of The Economist are in North America.

And the influence won’t stop there – given their international prestige and recognition, British media are likely to shape news coverage of the US election all around the world...

Professor Cristian Vaccari, an expert in political communication in the University’s Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, discusses the Election Coverage and Democracy Network's 18-page resource guide, which he helped construct, and ‘democracy-worthy’ coverage in the Conversation.

Read the full article here

Notes for editors

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