Newspaper endorsements in British elections

A British general election is tomorrow! That means lots of predictions and projections floating around for the next 24 hour. There are also some interesting questions surrounding British polling right now, after pollsters dramatically underestimated support for the Conservatives in 2015. But I have no prediction of my own; for one, I would find it hard to improve on what’s already out there. Here’s a smart piece on the state of things (along with an overview of changes to British polling post-2015) if that’s what you’re after.

I did find myself looking for a history of endorsements by UK newspapers, and couldn’t find anything recent. I have always found British newspaper culture fascinating, particularly for its open partisanship. While newspaper endorsements tend to reflect elite opinion in both the US and Britain, in Britain they are also much more likely to reflect an editorial line that has been visible in the paper’s tone and choice of coverage throughout the campaign. Probably the notorious endorsement to have taken place in modern British politics was the Sun’s in 1992, which led the tabloid to outright claim credit for an upset Tory victory: “it’s the Sun wot won it“. One study even found that the Sun’s shifting stances in 1997 (pro-Labour) and 2010 (pro-Conservative) were responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of votes.

So, where do UK newspapers find themselves now? After backing New Labour for several years, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun is back to supporting the Conservatives and had been reliably pro-Brexit. There are few other surprises compared to 2010, though it is interesting to see how some of the papers have evolved since the Labour landslide in 1997 (many through changing ownership, but also shifting tides).

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The post-financial crash election of 2010 looks like a high water mark in newspaper support for the Conservatives since 1992. In fact, an analysis by LSE found that 71% of newspaper readership in 2010 went to a Tory-endorsing paper, more than double 2005. Of the 10 larger papers shown above, the 7 endorsing the Conservatives account for about 70% of the overall circulation (some of this could be overlap, and the list is incomplete, so classify this as very rough). Either way, May appears to have mostly kept hold of Tory gains under Cameron.

Of course, causation can go either way here – some readers may be swayed by the editorial line, and some newspapers may have made their picks to attract new readers or avoid alienating old ones.

Please let me know if you see any errors* or important omissions, some of this came secondhand. My main sources are here, here and here. In some cases they conflicted, and I did my best to find a better resource. 

*The Evening Standard came out for the Conservatives today, so that’s been updated. It’s also been pointed out that the Sun endorsed SNP for Scotland in 2015.

Newspaper endorsements in British elections