Gosling's Grouse: Can the press really influence the election?

Can the press really influence the election?


Lawrence Gosling takes a closer look at the media's political allegiances during previous elections, and whether they influenced the results.

'Only 24 hours and counting to save the country!' 

Now that is the sort of headline you might see on the front of a national newspaper to get you to vote in line with their thoughts.

Or, more likely, in line with the interests of their owners.

Fascinatingly for this election, the Sun's Scottish edition has supported the SNP, in slight defiance of Mr Murdoch who likes to believe he still has sway in how the country votes.

London's paper The Evening Standard told its readers to vote Conservative because that is better for the Capital, even though its proprietor Evgeny Lebedev also owns the Independent- historically a Liberal paper.

The Daily Express has thrown its support behind UKIP and the paper's owner, Richard Desmond, has donated considerable sums to support Farage.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sun, Sun on Sunday, Times and Sunday Times, has swung his papers back towards the Conservatives, having famously backed New Labour in 1997. He is nothing if not the consummate businessman when using his political influence.

Fascinatingly for this election, the Sun's Scottish edition has supported the SNP, in slight defiance of Mr Murdoch who likes to believe he still has sway in how the country votes.

But do newspapers affect the way we vote? Well, some of them like to think they do and this myth has gathered currency ever since the infamous headlines by the Sun in the 1992 election.

For those not old enough to remember - or who don't admit sneaking a look at the red-tops - on election day, with Labour under Neil Kinnock leading in the polls, the paper's headline was: ‘If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights'.

Kinnock's seven point lead in the polls, which were not as accurate as they are today, was overturned by John Major, leading the Sun two days later to proclaim: ‘It's the Sun wot won it'.

However, academics have studied the influence of the media ever since and have come to the conclusion that it is not the newspapers ‘wot won it'.

Authors David and Gareth Butler, in their book British Political Facts, looked at all the political alignments of the newspapers from 1945 to 2005. They found only two papers had consistently supported the same party over that period - the Daily Mirror with Labour and the Telegraph with the Conservatives.

The Sun has switched between Labour and Conservative, and even the Daily Mail once backed a coalition in 1974, at the height of the three day week and the recession.

Another couple of academics, Dominic Wring and David Deacon at Loughborough University, also looked at the voting behaviour of the readers of the papers in the 2005 election and found although 59% of Mail readers voted Tory, 16% voted Labour and the same percentage for the Liberals. A total of 16% of Mirror readers voted Conservative, as did 36% of Independent readers.

And while we are on the subject of great newspaper headlines, we have to mention the 1948 US Presidential election and the Chicago Tribune.

In its first edition it proclaimed ‘Dewey defeats Truman' except he hadn't - Truman had won and the Tribune got it completely wrong by trying to predict the winner before all the votes were in.

I can't see this happening in our election.

So if this proves anything, it is that we all have our own minds - and we are not that bothered what the newspapers say.

So go to the ballot boxes and whatever the result, it won't be the papers what wins it.

It is the voters wot won it!

Click here for Lawrence Gosling's alternative election manifesto.

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