Naked Politics Blogger
We are the social media generation, therefore it would superficially seem as if newspapers have lost their influence upon our society today. However over four in five (82%) respondents to a survey conducted by PR group, Gorkana, said they thought that newspapers had “power and influence” over their readers; 32% thought newspapers had “a lot of power and influence” and under half of that number (14%) thought newspapers had ”little or no power and influence”. Newspapers may in fact appear to be growing in influence and impact on readers, with 44% of respondents believing that newspapers have more influence than a decade ago. This survey indicates the extent to which the public feel that newspapers have an impact on politics. However, when it comes to the most publicised and stimulating democratic event of our political agenda, a general election, can we say that newspapers still have a notable influence?
The day after the 1992 election the Sun had the headline ‘It’s the Sun wot won it’ smeared across its front cover. The power of newspapers can be exacerbated through elections. In the last 70 years, 18 elections have been conducted. In the entirety of that time the Daily Mail (voted by 30% as the most influential paper in the 2015 general election) and Daily Telegraph have never supported Labour at election time, and contrastingly, the Daily Mirror has never supported any party except Labour.
In the lead up to the 2015 election all the major newspapers, bar the Guardian, Daily Express and the Daily Mirror, were extremely pro-Tory and fervently anti-Labour. The question we must therefore pose is: did the papers have an impact on the 2015 election? If there are a number of newspapers vying for one particular party, they could bias public opinion. Some articles report stories in a manner that does not reveal fully true information; or by the newspaper appearing to inform the electorate, but to actually promote another parties’ agenda. As a consequence their readership could have a skewed opinion of who to vote for in the election. The Daily Mail was afraid that “our very nation” was at stake and the best outcome of the election was the Tories claiming power and potentially voting tactically to “Keep out Red Ed”. Additionally the Telegraph pictured Nicola Sturgeon with the headline ‘Nightmare on Downing Street‘. This was the sentiment that these single sided newspapers pressed onto to their readers.
However, there are some studies that show newspapers do not have an effect on the electorate when it comes to putting a cross next to a party and candidate every five years. This is due to the various other more influential reasons for someone to vote for a party or candidate. Jeremy Paxman grilling Ed Miliband about how he would perform when dealing with Mr. Putin on the BBC showed Miliband’s lack of experience and was for many a clear deal breaker leading voters to side with the Conservative Party leader. A survey of over 3,000 people, carried out by Panelbase, found that 38% of voters considered the TV debates in the lead up to the 2015 general election to having an influence on their voting intention.
The EU referendum is another way in which the influence of newspapers can be evaluated. The Sun has declared that it will be supporting Brexit alongside The Sunday Times. However, particularly with the EU referendum, social media is seen by many as crucial. Both Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave have spent huge sums of money on advertising through social media outlets such as Facebook. There are also more obscure reasons, alternative to newspapers, that may influence the result of the EU referendum; with Euro 2016 being seen by some as crucial. A good result in the Euros could correlate to people voting to Remain on the 23rd June, an opinion backed up by Mark Perryman, founder of the company Football Philosophy: “If England, Wales or Northern Ireland have won their group, then it will make people feel good about being part of Europe.”
While social media and TV debates may have a growing influence upon the outcome of elections; fundamentally their influence remains relatively minimal compared to the everlasting importance of newspapers. As we look back on the 2015 election and look ahead to the upcoming EU referendum and future General Elections we can expect to see newspapers continuing to influence the outcome.