Is it the media wot won it?

29 May 2015, Blog

As the exit polls flashed up on television screens up and down the country at 10pm on 7 May, many jaws dropped to the floor at the number of seats the Conservatives were predicted to win. Was this to be another 1992? A year famous for an unexpected Conservative victory, and one which The Sun and media at large claimed a hand in. So while the 2015 General Election channelled a 1992-esque result, did it also channel a similar role for the media?

While the eponymous Sun headline of April 1992 continues to be used as a political catchphrase, it is interesting to look at whether it could apply to this year’s election. A bold claim that perhaps The Sun falls short of this time around, if it was ever true in 1992 (more than half of The Sun’s readership in that election were reported to have been Labour voters). But they certainly did not waste any time in nailing their political colours to the mast on the day before the election. “Save our bacon” was the headline, Ed Miliband was the picture. ‘That’ bacon sandwich image was splashed across the front page, with the subheading; “This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie. In 48 hours, he could be doing the same to Britain.”

Lord Kinnock, a victim of targeted attacks from The Sun, publicly denounced the right-wing press and claimed they had thwarted Labour’s chances of victory by a campaign of abuse against Ed Miliband. It is difficult to disagree with him when you look at the coverage. It is also difficult to ignore the stats; research found that 95% of the leader columns in The Sun leading up to the election were anti-Labour, compared to 79% in 1992.

Interestingly, research on the media coverage of all the parties reflects the public’s view; this election was going to be a two-horse race. Cameron and Miliband enjoyed the highest media profiles due to the strong likelihood one of them becoming Prime Minister come May 7. All the other parties, including the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, received considerably less media attention. It also showed that the press, in general, were more likely to quote the Conservative Party directly rather than Labour when covering the main two parties. This bias was in marked contrast to the television broadcast coverage, where the two parties enjoyed broadly the same levels of exposure.

Many people expected the 2015 election to be a ‘social media election’. Although Twitter was expected to have a big hand in this year’s election, it appears that it only became a vehicle for people to voice their own opinions, rather than be influenced by others. Many have downplayed its role, with commentators stating that social media did not lead the campaign, but followed it. Research suggests that the same can be said for the print media. Even Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter and claimed that the General Election “explodes the myth of social media power”, going on to champion the “competitive free press” as his papers pulled out all the stops to blot Labour’s copybook.

There is a view that Ed Miliband and his party were unfairly targeted by The Sun and other parts of the media. There is evidence to suggest that this might have been the case as the election campaign reached its climax – with negative press treatment of Miliband and Labour intensifying week-on-week towards the end. But the research ultimately points towards the media simply mirroring entrenched public opinion – and this evidence could also fit this trend. There was certainly a higher proportion of negative coverage towards Labour among the most popular newspapers. But it is clear is that the readers, not the fish-wrappers themselves, still have a big part to play when it comes to choosing the next Government.

By Alex Watson, Consultant at JBP

JBP Staff Member

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