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Albanese’s absence doesn’t dent Labor’s media presence

On April 21, the evening after the first debate of the Election, the Labor campaign’s worst fears were realised: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese tested positive for COVID-19, forcing him off the campaign trail and into isolation for a week.

Speculation was rife that with their leader off the trail, Labor’s campaign and media presence would collapse, spelling disaster for their Election hopes. But how did the reality of media coverage during the Labor Leader’s week of isolation compare to those expectations?

Let’s start with the topline data: Anthony Albanese’s media profile did decline during the week he was in isolation, with unique stories across Print, Online, TV and Radio mentioning him falling from 8428 the week prior to his infection, to 6326 during the week he had COVID, or a drop of about 25%.

But what was a quieter week for Albanese was a massive week for his frontbenchers, with many of them seeing a significant increase in stories mentioning them during the COVID-affected week:

Name% growth in storiesStories week priorStories during COVID week
Richard Marles655%2241691
Brendan O’Connor447%45246
Ed Husic313%833
Amanda Rishworth208%1353
Jason Clare279%193731

In fact, Labor’s overall media presence during the week rose by 5.4%, with unique stories mentioning Labor and their frontbenchers up from 14072 the week prior to 14833 stories during the week Albanese was out.

For the Coalition, the week wasn’t one of free media real estate, as they might have expected. Across the week that Labor was without their leader, unique stories mentioning the Coalition and their frontbenchers dropped by 1.6%, with the Prime Minister seeing unique stories mentioning him falling by 14% across the same week, compared to the week prior.

While Labor frontbenchers locked out the top five ministers or shadow ministers with the biggest growth in profile during the COVID-impacted week, four of the top five frontbenchers with the biggest reduction in profile during that week were Coalition ministers, with only one being a Labor frontbencher:

Name% decline in storiesStories week priorStories during COVID week
Anne Ruston89.40%1011107
Alan Tudge78.40%21847
Greg Hunt64.40%579206
Melissa Price64.30%9835
Tony Burke62.20%267101

What conclusions can we draw from this data? In terms of media presence, Albanese’s absence from the physical campaign trail wasn’t a negative for Labor, with the party’s overall profile rising during the week he was isolating, along with several Labor frontbenchers seeing a very significant rise in their media profile.

The Coalition weren’t able to capitalise on the opportunity presented to grow their media coverage by way of Albanese isolating, with their profile declining week-on-week and many of their ministers seeing significant drops in their media presence.

Despite initially looking like a nightmare scenario for Labor, one that would see them cede significant media coverage to the Coalition, the loss of Anthony Albanese from the campaign trail for a week ultimately resulted in higher coverage of the party and their frontbenchers, an outcome most would not have expected at the start of Albanese’s COVID isolation.

Data: Stories mentioning each politician, or party alongside their frontbenchers. Metro and Regional Print, Online, TV and Radio. April 15-28 2022. Syndications removed.

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