Does the ‘dead tree press’ still influence election outcomes?

Newspapers have a long history of backing certain political parties but does this actually swing votes?

Does the ‘dead tree press’ still influence election outcomes?

As we approach the beginning of the official campaign for what is likely to be one of the closest elections for a long time, each party is looking at ways to influence public opinion. TV news, the main source of information for most people in the UK, is bound by impartiality rules leaving the newspapers, online news and blogs to take sides in the political battle.

Despite their on-going decline as a format, newspapers do still sell a lot of copies and have significant readerships .Their influence is magnified by the fact that regular newspaper readers are amongst the demographic who are most likely to vote.

IPSOS Mori tracked newspaper readers and their changing support for the main political parties between the 2005 and the 2010 general elections. On the face of it there is a very strong correlation between the political party that each of the papers supported and the swing in support between the main parties. For example, the Sun, which dramatically changed its allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives in the run up to the 2010 election, saw a 13.5% swing in its readership’s support from Labour to the Conservatives between the 2005 and 2010.

The IPSOS Mori research suggests that most of the swing of Sun readers from the Labour to the Conservatives happened before the paper publically changed their allegiance. There was a swing of 12.5% in support between the general election and the point at which the paper swung firmly behind David Cameron in September 2009.

Rather than influencing opinion, the paper’s switch in support can be seen as a belated attempt to ensure that they were aligned with the views of its readers. Despite the intensity of the paper’s support for Cameron in the run up to the election, there was actually a 4.5% swing of Sun readers from the Conservatives to Labour from the period when the paper threw its support behind the Conservatives and the election.

The fact that the political line taken by a newspaper doesn’t necessarily influence the views of its readers is underlined by fact that, despite the Mirror’s consistent anti-Conservative tone, its readers swung 6.5% to the Conservatives between the two elections. This was higher than the 5% national swing. Nearly 60% of the Mirror’s readership did, however, stick with Labour in the 2010 general election reflecting the pattern of people choosing papers that reflect their existing personal political biases.

Whilst the jury might be out on the power of newspaper’s declared support in the run up to the election on the electoral choices of their readers, the tone of their content and their decisions to build up or knock down political figures does influence public opinion. In a very close election even small changes in support between the parties could make all the difference.