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Media coverage of Ukip helped to increase its support: study

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Author: Jim Waterson

Disproportionate British newspaper coverage of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) helped to increase support for the party, according to a new academic study, amid a growing debate on the role the media plays in boosting the popularity of anti-immigrant political parties.
Political scientists at the University of Southampton investigated whether increased media coverage of Ukip caused support for the pro-Brexit party to rise – or whether the opposite is true, and increased public support for Ukip prompted the media to dedicate more space to the party.
The research, published this week in the British Journal of Political Science, concluded there is a direct statistical relationship between the two factors, with increased media coverage slightly aiding Ukip’s subsequent poll ratings.
However, the overall effect was very limited, with the academics concluding that even months that saw an “exceptionally large”
increase in Ukip’s press coverage could cause the party’s national poll rating to later rise by just 1% – a fraction of the party’s rise over the period studied.
“Just because there is a positive statistical relationship between media coverage and public support doesn’t mean media coverage is the main driver of Ukip support by any stretch,” said politics lecturer Justin Murphy, the report’s lead author.
“I do think [media coverage of Ukip] has a non-trivial effect that journalists would do well to understand,” he added. “But the study certainly does not suggest nor prove that the media is the main cause of Ukip’s public support.”
The research is particularly relevant because of the debate on whether the media is playing a role in boosting support for right-wing activists such as Steve Bannon and Tommy Robinson.
The academic report, which looked at Ukip’s rise and media presence between 2004 and 2017, was adjusted for factors such as the unemployment rate and historic polling on whether voters were concerned about immigration.
Murphy said that there were times when the British press increased the number of articles it wrote about Ukip, even as the party was falling in the polls: “There are a few key periods where Ukip support is going down and you see exceptional, extraordinary upward spikes in the amount of media coverage.
“At one point in early 2015 the media coverage of Ukip is off the charts, at a time where you can clearly see that Ukip support had been decreasing for the previous few weeks.”
The study also found Ukip benefited substantially from the increased media attention around European parliament elections – one of the few important British elections held under a proportional representation system – which enabled the party to build its brand.
The study did not look at the coverage given to Ukip by TV and radio stations, which are heavily regulated and required to provide balance on their political programmes.
It also did not consider the content of the stories about Ukip, merely counting whether the party was being written about at all.
“Probably a great deal of the media coverage in our study is negative towards Ukip,” said Murphy. “Our paper does not show any pro-Ukip bias in the media.”
Although not covered by the research, he speculated that it could in fact be this critical coverage of Ukip that helped to attract voters to the party: “If you’re a voter and you mistrust politicians and the media, then when you hear the media report negatively about Ukip in an unintended way the negative media coverage is actually interpreted as a signal to increase support for the party.”
Professor Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, who has written about the rise of Ukip but was not involved in this research, said that the paper does appear to show journalists “can move the dial a little bit by getting overexcited”.
He said that the level of media coverage for Ukip has almost always been in excess of what it is polling and that may well have introduced the party to people who would start to consider voting for it.
However, Ford warned against putting too much emphasis on one factor to explain the party’s historic rise in popularity: “There were many people in lots of surveys who don’t read any newspapers at all, and their level of support for Ukip wasn’t substantially different – so where are they getting it from?”

Source: http://www.gulf-times.com/story/601916/Media-coverage-of-Ukip-helped-to-increase-its-supp

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