In the News

Social media and voting behaviour

Mike McCartney

15th May 2023

Some say that the Labour attack ad on crime is another example of the media affecting voting behaviour. Is it?

The impact of the media on politics is a much larger section of the A level Politics course than it was before the latest iteration of the syllabus came on board. I don't really think it's justified. It's not a sociology course, and for me, it's enough to say that the media doesn't really matter as much as some people think.

In April of this year, the Labour Party launched a series of attack ads on Twitter which questioned the record of the Conservative Government on crime.

According to the Guardian:

"Labour officials have insisted that the shock tactic was helping their message to cut through, putting the Tories’ poor record on crime under the spotlight."

But, thankfully, this view is also countered (with what I believe is a more accurate assessment of their impact) in the same story:

"But that was not the experience of candidates doing canvassing ahead of the local elections.

“The tweets weren’t mentioned once on the door, I think it is very much a Westminster village/Twitter story,” said Declan Stones, a Labour candidate in Bournemouth’s East Cliff and Springbourne ward."

I think this reflects my view that those who genuinely believe that the use of media as part of elections campaigns affects the way people vote have a vested interest in holding that belief. Because they either work in political campaigning or in the media. In other words, those inside the Westminster bubble.

The paper in another section then gives a potted history of what they see as notable campaigns, going back to old media days. For example:

"...Saatchi & Saatchi unleashed what would come to be regarded as one of the most influential attack adverts, the “Labour isn’t working” poster that came to define Margaret Thatcher’s victorious 1979 campaign.

Maurice Saatchi, who would later become a Tory peer, also developed the “Labour’s tax bombshell” poster that is credited with helping to swing the 1992 election campaign back to the Conservatives, playing on fears of tax hikes under a future Labour government."

This last point overlaps to an extent with the idea that the Sun also has an important role to play in swaying the minds of voters at the last minute, with their anti-Kinnock headlines. But what we have to bear in mind is that many of the opinion poll companies that predicted a Labour victory right up to the day before polling took place had certain inherent weaknesses in their methodology. Furthermore, the well known psephologist (much better known know than in 1992, to be fair) predicted a Tory victory by 20 seats, a full six weeks in advance of the general election.

Please also see a previous blog post on this topic that I posted last year, which provides much more context.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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