Safeguarding the Peaceful Transfer of Power: Pro-Democracy Electoral Frames and Journalist Coverage of Election Deniers During the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections


This study develops a new normative and analytical framework of “democracy-framed electoral coverage” grounded in literatures that stress the role of governmental and communicative institutions in protecting democracies from threats. We define “democracy-framed electoral coverage” as journalism that embraces fairly contested elections as an established norm and political ideal, and clearly alerts the public to threats to the peaceful transfer of power. Using the U.S. as a case study of a consolidated democracy facing autocratization threats, the study applies the framework to analyze a comprehensive dataset of 708 articles encompassing twenty one races during the 2022 U.S. midterm elections when candidates who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election were on the ballot. Additionally, we conducted interviews with twelve journalists to evaluate their perspectives and practices regarding election denying candidates. We find that journalists routinely failed to alert the public to the threat posed by candidates unwilling to embrace the legitimacy of U.S. elections. This paper demonstrates the necessity of a normative framework for pro-democracy election coverage, and the findings underscore the electoral fragility of the U.S.—a case of a democracy undergoing autocratization processes and facing threats to the legitimacy of its elections and the peaceful transfer of power.