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).