Critical review newspapers impact on citizens political attitudes and behaviour
Newspapers Influence on Voting Behaviour: A Report 1
Newspapers’ Impact on Citizens’ Political Attitudes and Voting Behaviour
Critical Review of 1997 Elections*
Professor and Head of Department, Political Science and
Director, Gandhian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies,
University of Jammu, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India.
The Sun had David William Donald Cameron’s photo on its front cover with the main
heading “Our Only Hope: In Cameron We Trust” on the Election Day in 2010. Lo and what
happened then! Tories won elections 2010 and formed the coalition Government with Liberal
The Sun is traditionally regarded as a newspaper supporting the Conservatives mostly but
for a few exceptions of switching to Labour Party when Tony Blair was the Prime Minister and
also in 1997 when the then Tory Prime Minister John Major announced general elections on 17
Tories generally have almost all the newspapers’ press advantage in Britain but for
the election campaign days of 1997.3
Even the then media magnet, Rupert Murdoch, also
supported Labour Party. One major reason for this massive support to the Labour was Euro
sceptic attitude of the Press.
The Sun was highly critical of the Labour Party in 1992.4
It lost elections. This newspaper
supported Labour in 1997. The Labour Party then won elections and formed government. This
shows an apparent impact of partisan press upon political attitudes and behaviour of voters in
elections. Is it always true? Partially true? Or sometimes true?
The working paper under review entitled “Was it the Sun wot won it again? The
Influence of Newspapers in the 1997 Election Campaign” examines only such questions about
newspapers’ influence in this context. Is it indeed The Sun wot won elections in Britain? In other
words, is it really the Press or the ‘fourth estate’ which make political parties win or lose
*Critical review of Curtice, J., “Was it the Sun wot won it again? The Influence of Newspapers in the 1997 Election
Campaign”, Working Paper, Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, Working Paper Number 75,
Oxford: Department of Sociology, September 1999, pages – i-ii + 1-31.
Curtice, J., “Was it the Sun wot won it again? The Influence of Newspapers in the 1997 Election Campaign”,
Working Paper, Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, Number 75, Oxford: Department of
Sociology, September 1999, pp. 1-2.
Ibid. pp. 2-4.
Newspapers Influence on Voting Behaviour: A Report 2
elections? This question and other related aspects are examined in great data oriented details
mainly by J. Curtice – author of the working paper under review. Other authors have also studied
and conducted election studies but not to the extent and manner as J. Curtice has done.5
interesting part of this working paper under review is its utmost detailed and methodical study of
newspaper readers of major and top newspapers of Britain, their loyalty levels and the changing
approach of various newspapers during 1997 elections.
This working paper – on the basis of relevant data from “The 1997 British Election
Campaign Study” – presents and objectively analyses the following main aspects of 1997
parliamentary general elections vis-a-vis the influence of newspapers and their
diversified/shifting coverage on the political behaviour and attitudes of voters in elections:
1. Press coverage of elections
2. Shifting loyalties of the newspapers
3. Types of readers of major national newspapers and their levels of loyalty to
4. How readers and newspapers loyalty is likely to affect the election campaign and
5. Why loyalties change especially at the level of newspapers
6. What is the extent of newspapers influence on the voting choice of voters and also
upon the election results
These six aspects are the main concerns of the working paper under review. Certain other
related matters such as a few pinching headlines or ‘one-liners’ in newspapers are also presented
for creating an effective impact on readers.
All above mentioned perspectives are explained with reference to data and examples
available to author. Yet, every data oriented study concerning vast masses and citizens of a
country like Britain cannot be fully representative. It has to be mostly selective. As such any of
the conclusions and results of the study in the working paper under review cannot be generalised
Ibid. P. 4-6. In this context, these references are mentioned in the relevant working paper: Dunleavy, P. and
Husbands, C. Democracy at the Crossroads. London: Allen and Unwin, 1985. Newton, K. ‘Do People Believe
Everything They Read in the Papers? Newspapers and Voters in the 1983 and 1987 Elections’, in Crewe, I., Norris,
P., Denver, D. and Broughton, D., eds., British Elections and Parties Handbook 1991. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester
Newspapers Influence on Voting Behaviour: A Report 3
though they can be understood for purposes of causal perception of the theme of the working
Otherwise, it is a very useful working paper for understanding the electoral and political
nuances of the British newspapers, their readers, political leaders and voting behaviour and
attitudes of voters in a particular context of the 1997 election when the Labour Party had won.
This working paper also very succinctly points out how The Sun appears to be behind the victory
of the Conservatives and Labour Party at different times in 1992 and 1997 respectively. Allow
me to quote a few very significant lines from this working paper. “...the unprecedented if not
surprising level of support for Labour amongst the national press was followed by the party’s
most successful election result ever, at least in terms of seats. For those commentators who
believed that the Tories traditional advantage in terms of press partisanship provided them with
an unfair advantage at election time (see, for example, Linton 1995) the outcome of the 1997
appears to be a clear vindication of their claims. Another simple case, it seems, of ‘It was the Sun
wot won it’!6
The newspapers do make an impact on the political behaviour and attitudes of the voters
in elections in Britain. This impact can differ from year to year and moment to moment. Reasons
behind this impact can be different ranging from issue to issue, individual to individual and
choice of a leader to leader. Yet, any election study can still not be generalised and applied to
every individual and voter because every citizen is different and acts and thinks quite
unpredictably and uniquely from time to time. In a democracy, choices can be put forth but no
one can forcefully influence the working of the mind and understanding of an individual voter.
This beauty of diversity and unity of interest among individuals also emerges in this working
paper though in a latent way for it not written very clearly ant where. Despite such aspects,
Curtice is largely successful in accomplishing the aims of his study. Author of this working
paper is indeed a master of his field of the election studies.
Curtice, J., Ibid. p. 3.