The Power of Rupert Murdoch Endorsements

Andrew Sullivan:

Murdoch followed up his 1992 coup with a switch from Tories to Labour six weeks before Tony Blair’s landslide 1997 victory. Can anyone believe “it was the Sun wot won it”? Please. It was Blair wot won it – and the Murdoch press made a shrewd decision to throw in its lot with him.

Research by Jonathan Ladd and Gabriel Lenz suggests otherwise.  Their paper is here (pdf).  From the abstract:

…we exploit a rare change in communication flows—the endorsement switch to the Labour Party by several prominent British newspapers before the 1997 United Kingdom general election—to study the persuasive power of the news media…By comparing readers of newspapers that switched endorsements to similar individuals who did not read these newspapers, we estimate that these papers persuaded a considerable share of their readers to vote for Labour. Depending on the statistical approach, the point estimates vary from about 10% to as high as 25% of readers.

Here’s a portion of their Figure 2, isolating habitual newspaper readers, that shows the switch:

There is a lot of additional labor (labour) in the analysis to rule out confounding factors, as best as possible.

Via email, Jon writes:

Surely Murdoch has responded to public tastes in numerous ways over his long and successful career. But in terms of the political endorsements of British newspapers like the Sun, there is evidence that Murdoch has also led public opinion.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.