Exclusive poll: newspaper hostility makes voters more likely to back Lib Dems

A poll carried out exclusively for Lib Dem Voice shows that opposition from the Daily Mail, The Sun and Daily Telegraph to the Liberal Democrats actually makes people more likely to vote for the party.

Asked the impact on their voting intention of those papers opposing Nick Clegg becoming Prime Minister, 15% said it made them more likely to vote Liberal Democrat and only 4% said it made them less likely, making for a net +11% saying they are more likely to vote Liberal Democrat.

Of the rest, 19% would vote Liberal Democrat regardless, 35% would not vote Liberal Democrat anyway and 27% said it wouldn’t alter their vote but they weren’t yet sure which way to vote.

The question doesn’t capture the potential agenda setting power of these three newspapers, but on the other hand the question was (deliberately) asked in a low key way, with no reference for example to the tax or residence status of newspaper proprietors such as Rupert Murdoch or the Barclay brothers. Moreover, so far part of the impact of the three titles running strident anti-Liberal Democrat stories has been to generate coverage by TV broadcasters about whether or not a smear operation is taking place.

Given that the public says it trusts TV much more than newspapers this, combined with our poll finding, illustrates the risk the three newspaper titles are running with their reputation, especially given the publicity given to the explicit comments by The Sun‘s political editor that he sees it as his job to help get Cameron elected.

Journalism overall is a deeply distrusted profession in the UK and it’s a rare business situation where reducing levels of trust doesn’t end up damaging commercial prospects. Therefore not only may a backlash to their coverage drown out their attempts to influence the election result, but a hostile public reaction makes the commercial future look tougher  for all three titles who – along with other newspapers – are trying to find ways to persuade people to pay them for news.

I asked George Pascoe-Watson, former political editor at The Sun, about this trust issue at an event a couple of weeks ago and he rather dismissively said it was “fashionable” for people to say they don’t trust journalists. Even if you agree with that (and I think he misses the more substantial changes at work), fashion is what make people spend or stop spending money all the time.

The end result may be that the newspapers fail to damage Nick Clegg’s reputation but end up damaging their own – winning votes for the Liberal Democrats but losing customers for themselves. That’s at one end of the spectrum of possible outcomes, but it shows how much is at stake not just for political parties but also for newspapers.

The poll was carried out 23-26 April online by Vision Critical (Angus Reid), a member of the British Polling Council. 1,810 British adults were surveyed and the data was weighted by age, gender, social class, region, newspaper readership and past vote. The full question was, “The newspapers in this country tend to take a position and support different parties at election time. It has been suggested that the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph do not want Nick Clegg to be Prime Minister. If those newspapers were to take this stance would that make you more or less likely to vote Liberal Democrat?”. Data table here (Excel file).

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  • Christine Headley 28th Apr '10 - 1:31pm

    Back in 1979, most Sun readers apparently voted Labour, not having noticed the paper’s pro-Thatcher stance.

  • Actually, in 1979, as far as I can remember, the Sun was nothing like as strident about the ‘Winter of Discontent’ which preceded that election. They didn’t give Mrs Thatcher anything like the brown nosed coverage that grew to a crescendo in their reporting of the Falklands war or the miners’ strike
    In fact the paper didn’t seem to know what to make of her, unlike Maggie’s standard bearer of the time: who else but the Daily Mail, admittedly under a more restrained editorship than that of the crazed incumbent.

  • Paul McKeown 28th Apr '10 - 9:05pm

    One thing that I would suggest is that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems remove some of the poison, by adopting the Sun’s ludicrous “Clogg” name as their own. Best way to get a good nickname is to accept a reasonable one quickly. I think “Cloggie” is actually quite charming, and NC should emphasize how proud he is of his mother, and how much he owes her. It would leave the Tory rags spitting in impotent fury.

    [I think I might quietly comment the next time I see the Fun, the Heil or the Screws raving about Nick Clegg being too “foreign,” that the last Dutchman who led the country, William III, did rather a good job.]

    As to this ludicrous “Cleggover” name that the Daily Mail harpies roll out in their bitchy way, I’m just going to insert a few questions in their comments regarding jealousy on their part, and ask if they are not getting enough. The only way to deal with bullies is to face them down. Tories see politics as a tribal football competition, but they only sing when they’re winning; well let’s stop them singing. I know it’s ridiculous, but you just won’t win their respect, unless you beat them at their own game. Sad, but true.

    Just saw the last 10 minutes or so of the BBC’s Health Debate. Thought Norman Lamb put on a really good performance, really on top of his brief and put his points across politely but firmly. Top drawer.

  • Paul McKeown 28th Apr '10 - 9:06pm

    Go, Cloggie, go!

  • How about “Clegg of Clegg Hall”? All Cleggs do originate from Clegg Hall, so I understand. Naming him after his ancestral residence would emphasise (1) his Britishness, and (2) the importance of the Pennines to our electoral prospects.

    It will be interesting to see tomorrow night how Cameron and Brown go about limiting the damage done to their economic policies by the IFS.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '10 - 3:04pm

    Christine Headley

    Back in 1979, most Sun readers apparently voted Labour, not having noticed the paper’s pro-Thatcher stance.

    This was one of the cleverest aspects of THE Sun. It was drip-feeding its readers Tory propaganda without them realising it. If you know it’s propaganda, it isn’t nearly as effective, is it? When Sun readers said their paper was “a Labour paper” even when it was endorsing the Tories, what they actually meant was “the sort of paper a traditional Labour voter would read”. So when they saw a paper which they trusted because they thought it was their sort of paper suggesting they vote Tory, it worked so much better than it would had it been a paper they always thought of as a Tory paper suggesting they vote Tory.

    This time round, THE Sun, Daily Mail etc have just gone over the top. Their knocking copy against us is just so blatantly party politically directed that it won’t be that effective and it will damage them in the long run. People might not mind a slant in their paper, but they aren’t going to pay for direct party political propaganda.

    As for 1979, one of the things we need to remember is that the “Winter of Discontent” has grown in the telling. It’s all Tory propaganda. I certainly don’t remember it being anywhere near as bad at the time as they make out now. A few sporadic local government strikes have been conflated into something massive. Strikes which happened at other times are are down as part of it. For example, I have a very graphic memory of rubbish lying uncollected. However, the context of that memory means it cannot possibly have been in 1979, it must have been much earlier in the 1970s, possibly even in the time of the Heath government.

    Propaganda talk now from the Tories tends to mess around badly with the time-line of the 1970s. I saw a quote from George Osborne recently in which he claimed the IMF intervened in this country after the Lib-Lab pact. Well, no, they didn’t, that was before. As was the big rise in inflation, though I’ve seen Tories claim that occurred during the Lib-Lab pact as well. Inflation and unemployment actually fell during the actual time of the Lib-Lab pact. They rose again dramatically after Thatcher came to power. Just maybe Osborne can be excused as he was in short trousers at the time, but the fact that he can get away with it and no-one notices is telling. Or at least, if people notice they can’t get the correction into print.

    At any rate, let’s remember one thing from the 1970s. The February 1974 general election was supposed to be on the question “Who runs the country?”. So is this one. It’s a straight choice – is it Murdoch et al or is it the people of this country? Vote Tory if you think it should be Murdoch. Vote LibDem for democracy. Labour can’t win round here.

  • As a l supporter of the Liberal Party (and now the LDs) since first taking an interrest in politics @40 years ago (I am now 53), I can’t help thinking (the exclusive LD Voice poll notwithstanding) that the insidious, unconscious effect of the Tory biased-often Murdochian press- is playing its part in the apparent slippage of our vote. Obviously, it didn’t help that Cameron improved in the 3rd debate, but I do wonder what might have happened had The Sun been neutral throughout the campaign and published that poll showing 49% of people would be likely to vote LD if they thought we could win…

  • Terry Gilbert 2nd May '10 - 8:24am

    @Matthew – surely worth turning this comment into an article for LDV?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd May '10 - 8:42am

    “Propaganda talk now from the Tories tends to mess around badly with the time-line of the 1970s. I saw a quote from George Osborne recently in which he claimed the IMF intervened in this country after the Lib-Lab pact. Well, no, they didn’t, that was before.”

    Are you sure that was Osborne? On the “Daily Politics” chancellors’ debate, Osborne said it happened when there was a government without a Commons majority (which I think is correct). It was the sloppy Andrew Neil who added his own comment about the Lib-Lab pact.

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