Why Press Mentions are Biggest Influence on Elections

In order to be a media influencer we need to understand how the news, social media and search engines all work together today


Is it reasonable to assume that people vote in elections to get the best government into office? If so, then everyone would vote on policies and in their own best interests. However, elections don’t seem to be that simple. They seem to work more like advertising with name recognition and press attention being the biggest influences on votes.

It seems that “all publicity is good publicity” when it comes to press in the run up to an election. One party may do anything to get press attention, while the other tries to fight the good fight. It was shown that the amount of press Trump got, positive or negative, had a huge influence on him winning. His campaign even employed Cambridge Analytica to ply people with media to influence their voting towards Trump. Hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes again.

Lines of domino pieces
By sharing press photos and name mentions, a domino effect can take place – image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Mainstream representations of candidate names and pictures draw our attention to the party it mentions. More so in the run up to a general election. One party might spend more on media and PR than others but voters have more power over media than they might already know. This article in the Guardian – giving the Conservatives more pictures and name drops than any of their opposition – shows how the battle lines are drawn using media attention.

In Trump’s campaign, his press profile saved him millions in press advertising. For the majority, elections work like advertisements, with short term choices made on images and names rather than deeper qualities. LiemanLab explores how much influence the media really has with graphs showing press mentions correlation to popularity.

In order to influence media, firstly you need to have a good understanding how all aspects of the media today work. As well as national newspapers, you need to have a good understanding about social media, hashtags and search engines. The School of Journalism and Communication in America gives a list of media attention priorities.

The Guardian writes about how Cambridge Analytica were exposed by two whistleblowers who were former employees.  Brittany Kaiser exposed how Cambridge Analytica used media content to influence “persuadables” to vote as their clients wanted. The clients were Donald Trump’s campaign and the UK’s right wing Leave Campaign.

The UK’s left wing Leave Campaign was completely ignored in the UK mainstream press.

In 1983, the Conservatives won a second term, despite huge rises in unemployment under Margaret Thatcher. This was mostly driven by the advent of Breakfast TV. Morning television chat shows gave politicians an informal way to talk to the viewing public and brought politics into our living rooms for the first time. The BBC discuss how Thatcher changed the media landscape, citing her attack on the print unions on Fleet Street.

For example, a link to a FastCompany.com article on how Russians were used to sway America’s election in 2016. (Screengrab below as seemingly blocked on Firefox 48).

Click this picture to see if the article is blocked in your server
Website article, which appears to be blocked, showing findings in Washington Post about media sway towards Trump from Internet Research Agency

Media Mentions Sways Elections

Despite numerous mentions of Fake News, particularly by Donald Trump, the amount of mentions in the media has been shown to swing results. It doesn’t matter if the coverage is positive or negative.

Trump’s run for president in 2016 employed Cambridge Analytica to influence voters by targeting them with right wing stories such as fear mongering about right-wing hot points such as immigration. This information was exposed by a whistle blow from Brittany Kaiser, who is now under witness protection. The BBC discuss how the press made the president here.

Back to Blighty, this paper on Taylor and Francis online argues that due to strategies, more right-wing stories end up being covered by broadcasters.

Overall, we found similar policy-orientated agendas, with more stories emanating from right-wing newspapers and moments when front-page splashes dominated television news coverage. Many broadcasters were editorially comfortable with covering stories originating from newspapers if further context was supplied. Our findings do not point towards any deliberate political bias among broadcasters. We suggest instead that a range of structural constraints and professional routines encouraged broadcasters to feed off stories that were more likely to be supplied by right-leaning newspapers.

Here is a Guardian article, which shows what the two whistleblowers revealed about how Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump and Leave campaigns with media exposure.

This goes to show how the amount of media attention a campaign gets influences its result in an election. By using disinformation, or “fake news” people’s votes have been influenced by the content they have seen on social media, according to this article on the Conversation.

In January 2016, this study was carried out to see how polling and media mentions correlated. The Medium article source is also linked from the graph. The results were:

graph showing media attention on US candidates
Media mentions seem to correlate closely to standings in the polls of January 7, 2016. Before Trump really got under the media’s skin

Yes We Can

Evidence shows that media mentions has a biggest influence on voting, means that you can focus on sharing content for your campaign. It is about understanding what influences voters and how. When asked by the Guardian if she had any regrets, Brittany Kaiser says:

“To be honest, I regret not spending all those years only working for causes I believed in, and instead just learning about how to achieve an end – how to get a result. I really know how to get a result now – and I can do it for anybody.”

Accordingly to his London School of Economics article, Bart Cammaerts says: In the 2015 election campaign, almost all newspapers were extremely pro-Conservative and rabidly anti-Labour.” One way it seems as if the Conversatives are drawing attention to themselves and distracting voters away from Labour is with polls, which invariably get reported in the press. The Independent discusses the biased press coverage in the UK press in the run up to the 2019 General Election.

A search for “does the UK national press influence elections” in Google gives the top 4 results as polls showing the Conservatives in the lead. The next search result is a BBC article with the pro-Toy headline “PM pledges to help struggling firms”. Bloomberg appear next with a balanced report on who is doing what. Interestingly, not sure if worth noting or not, but the Google search text only mentions Conservative candidates.

Search Engine Algorithms Don’t Write Themselves

Within the last decade, as well as Russian’s Internet Research Agency and Cambridge Analytica manipulating media, search engines and social media have warping the media landscape too.

This article shows how a former engineer at Google is questioning its bias. “Content suppression” is also known as “online negative content management strategy“.  and websites are being “overblocked” as this website argues. I found another article on FastCompany, which appears to be blocked, about Firefox blocking trackers.

Media In the Run Up To Elections

The United Kingdom seems to have changed since the EU Referendum in 2016. One noticeable change is in our attitudes to immigration. This Global Citizen article shows some actual figures on irrigation that the tabloids don’t tell us and the New Statesman shows how British fears over people “coming and taking our jobs” has been replaced with an unprecedented positive view of people coming to work and live here.

Changing trends in New Statesman article

Graph showing changes in views on immigration
Graph shows how the UK public has seen through the press on immigration and this has changed reporting on the issue too.

As a result in this change of perspective, the UK press have responded by reducing the amount of anti-immigration splashes, which reached all time highs in the lead up to this decade.

The Global Citizen article here shows how the University College London studied articles to come up with the above graph of “tabloid splashes” on immigration.

“A study conducted by the University of Oxford assessing more than 170,000 articles between 2006 and 2015 found that the world “illegal” was the term that most commonly accompanied the terms “migrant” and “immigrant.”  The second most common description was “European, or EU” (7%).

While the media exists in part to respond to the concerns of its readers, the press also plays a decisive role in shaping public perceptions. It’s a classic chicken or egg relationship. Does the press talk about immigration so much because of public concerns?  Or are people so concerned about immigration because the press talks about it so much? Perhaps if the media focused on the next fact more often, more people would recognise that immigration is far from “a threat to our standard of living.”

“Overall, migrants give more to the UK than they take”.

– source: University College London

By studying the media, elections and human behaviour we can better understand the relationships between us, social media, advertisers and the press. This means we can know what is trying to influence us so we can look beyond it for answers to our big questions.

We can, however, make the most of media mentions to drive as much name recognition and face familiarity for the candidates we support as we can to drive votes from people we did not know we could reach.





VIAGlobal Citizen
SOURCEUniversity College London
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Sophie Sweatman
Born in south London and brought up in Surrey I had a very enjoyable social and active childhood and then got sent to boarding school where the only escape was team sports and music. I greatly enjoyed trying to predict number one records. My first published piece was in the school magazine, then after my O’levels I got the plum work experience job on the local paper and after a second attempt at house style, got all the wedding reviews printed that I had written up, plus a few extra pieces. This led me to a job offer at GQ magazine but my “housewife and mother” education was continued and I went to cookery school. I started work writing for a café and booking bands, which led to work experience at Lynne Franks PR, where I learnt to do music listings, putting me in good stead for 10 years of music promotion. I booked bands at the Laurel Tree in Camden in 1997 amongst various other places, some sadly gone. Some curdled mayonnaise later I went to an art college, which was part of the American College in London to do all sorts of art-based subjects and being taught English in American was interesting but they taught Harvard Referencing so well it was no bother and I got a top grade for a 10,000 word dissertation on music law focusing on George Michael’s court case against his record company. After looking for work in non-arty south west London I moved to Crouch End and had a painting exhibition in 1994. After working for the local paper I got into the London College of Communication to do a postgraduate in periodical journalism. This was followed by an industrial placement at the Camden New Journal, where I wrote health columns inspired by What Doctors Don’t Tell You a newsletter started by Lynne McTaggart that still goes today. The Camden New Journal also inspired me to do theatre reviews, which I did each week for the London Newspaper Groups stable of papers from 1998 til 2000. My thirties was spent on self-development, resulting in a good job by 2010, when I started planning a move out of London. With an unconditional place at London College of Communication to do an MA in Broadcast Journalism but instead I moved to Falmouth and did a Professional Writing MA. In Cornwall I write for various publications and work for a record company promoting musicians and local artists. I still read What Doctors Don’t Tell You and research on health, nutrition, ancient humanity, science and various other subjects.