It’s the media wot swung it, officer

In Politics on May 3, 2010 by datanamics

Bookmark and Share

The news that has dominated the headlines was that The Sun withdrew its 12 year long support for Labour, and now cheers for the Tories. In the midst of a very hard-fought election, the turnaround of Britain’s best selling daily newspaper could only spark speculations..

Versatile support... The Sun

All causality considerations aside, data shows that whatever party supported by the Sun during any campaign since the 70s eventually won the General Elections. No matter, replied Labour deputy Harriet Harman, who does not believe that newspapers wield that much of an influence at the ballot box : “We will not be bullied. This underdog is biting back.” After all, in the solitude of the voting booth, it is the British people, not editors in chief, that would decide the election.

So do media moguls really hold the power to influence the popular vote? Can a newspaper dramatically shape the outcome of an election, or does it merely reflect the concerns of its readers in the light of topical issues ? Central to the understanding of politics, this questions requires a thorough social study that the following visualizations do not pretend to match. The bottom line is we have attempted to introduce the print media landscape along with its somewhat versatile endorsements..

All data hereby presented was provided by the excellent Guardian Datablog. As usual, data appears to be a powerful way to shed new light on a much scrutinized issue. Find here the original database.


This year, most of the circulating paper endorses the Tories in a overwhelming fashion. As I write these lines, the only newspaper to have displayed an unconditional support for the Labour is the Daily Mirror. Which is no match to its declining circulation level..

In the Red Zone... The Mirror

Meanwhile, many papers have recently switched their allegiance to the Conservatives. First in line, the Sun and the Times, both property of News Corporation. Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s titles have shifted their traditional pro-Labour endorsement, thus boosting the Tories coverage in British media. In the meantime, the traditional pro-conservative support provided by the Telegraph, the Express and the Daily Mail has gone unchallenged. .

Teaming up for the Tories : The Telegraph and The Times

In the aftermath of Gordon Brown’s ‘bigot’ painful gaffe, the Guardian has also turned its back on the current tenant of 10, Downing Street. In its latest editorial, the newspaper claims that the Liberal moment has come, displaying its wish to cast enthusiastically for the Liberal Democrats.

The party led by Nick Clegg enjoys an ever-increasing media support. It is widely believed that the first TV debate gave the Lib Dems their time to shine, therefore denying the Tories a much desired clear majority. Nick Clegg’s rise actually puts the traditional media coverage system into question. Historically, it appears that the yellow party has been scarcely backed up by the nation’s top newspapers.  Often edged off the papers’ editorials, the Lib Dem were seen as the ‘invisible party’, to quote Guardian columnist David Yelland. The Lib Dems gathered more than 22% of the popular vote in the 2005 election, a performance that can hardly remain unnoticed. Yet, they were denied the possibilty to secure more than 62 MPs out of the 646 seats available at the House of Commons. Beyond the level of media support, the explanation mostly lies in the two-party system existing in Britain. Therefore, Clegg sees this year a huge opportunity to reform the electoral process and embrace a genuine proportional system.

Filling the coverage gap... The Guardian

Keeping this issue in mind, it appears that only 6 out of the 17 post-war general elections witnessed the victory of a party not backed up by the majority of national newspapers. Find here the original database.

In the last thirty years, the correlation between newspapers’ main support and the outcome of the election has been getting steadier. Find here the original database..

Still, what is written in the columns of a newspaper cannot be equated with what is going on in the privacy of a voting booth. After all, the vote is up to the citizens, not the papers, I reckon. Therefore, one must analyze the breakdown of reader voting and the editorial line adopted by their newspapers. Fortunately, it comes out that readers are able to demonstrate their own critical thinking, therefore not necessarily voting as advised by their favorite paper.

Find here the original database.



Dear Guardian Data Blog,

We took you up on your offer and tried to create the most comprehensive visualization from the database you provided. Do newspaper merely reflect or spark  political trends amongst its readers? The question remains hanging.

In this particular case, the finest empirical data in the world will fail to explanate the complexity of sociological interactions that create political support. For that purpose, it would be fascinating to analyze the turnaround of newspapers’ support in the light of factors such as unemployement rate or inflation. In other words, bring on more data to fiddle with!



2 Responses to “It’s the media wot swung it, officer”

  1. […] vous renvoie à l’article détaillé de FX pour une analyse approfondie, mais j’aimerais juste attirer votre attention sur quelques petites […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ActuVisu. ActuVisu said: It’s the media wot swung it. FX's new post. Visualizing party support in UK's main national newspapers #dataviz […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: