One of the most common myths amongst Liberal Democrat activists is that readers of the Daily Mail are all so awful that none of them can possibly be supporters of the party. However, as I pointed out for the 2010 general election:
Around 576,00 Daily Mail readers voted Liberal Democrat in 2010, a number only topped by the 796,000 or so Sun readers who voted Liberal Democrat. That Daily Mail figure is more than the equivalent figures for The Guardian and The Independent put together.
This matched up with the pattern found in 2009.
But that was 2010 and that was print readership. What about 2015 and overall readership, including online?
Here is what Liberal Democrat votes in 2015 were reading:*
The Guardian: 745,000
The Independent / i: 629,000
Daily Mail: 605,000
The Times: 501,000
The Telegraph: 489,000
The Sun: 391,000
The Mirror: 354,000
The Express: 199,000
The Star: 81,000
You may also notice just what a large number these figures add up to – a notch under 4 million compared with just under 2.5 million actual Liberal Democrat votes in 2015. Two factors inflate the figures above. Voters may read zero, one or more newspapers. In addition the definition of ‘readership’ includes some people who are not able to vote. However the net impact of both of these factors is to still leave the relative figures meaningful. They also mean that there is a good chunk of voters – and all the more so households – where readership of newspapers is more than just those top two titles.
Overall, the figures are quite a change from the 2010 numbers quoted above (and previous general elections). There is much of a ‘Lib Dem cliche’ of Guardian and Independent voters. The big online successes of both are part of the story. As is The Sun having such a low relative online readership due to its (disappearing) paywall.
Yet it still leaves the combined Mail, Sun and Express total at just under 90% of the Guardian and Independent total. So as a rough rule of thumb, you can say that for every Lib Dem voter who is a reader of these latter two, there is nearly one other is a reader of the former trio.**
Or, if you are a Liberal Democrat campaigner and want to understand the world view of a large proportion of Liberal Democrat voters (let alone the wider electorate), making a badge of honour of not reading the Mail, Sun or Express is about as wise as being a sailor who disdains wanting to know about tides, winds or coastlines.
You can do that, but it doesn’t make you an admirable sailor. It makes you a bad sailor.
* Data sources: voting intention by newspaper readership is taken from YouGov’s poll of 100,000 people conducted May 6-18 2015 (a large enough sample to allow this sort of breakdown). Newspaper readership is taken from Newsworks, using figures for combined online and print readership in the UK in June 2016.
** The potential Liberal Democrat core vote which David Howarth and I argue the party should target is much more heavily weighted towards Guardian and Independent readers. In this group the ratio is 3:1, but even so the Guardian and Independent readers are very much in the minority overall. See footnote 21 in our pamphlet for more detail. Plus, as we point out in that pamphlet such a core vote is a jumping off point to building a broader coalition to win under first past the post in many elections. Which brings readership back towards the figures quoted above.