Stephen Bush, special correspondent for the New Statesman, has written an article which tries to help Remain supporters believe that – despite a string of recent polls putting Leave ahead – there are four reasons to suggest the only way isn’t exit.
It’s a brilliant article and I would like to add a fifth reason to give hope to those who want Britain to stay in the EU:
I believe there is evidence to suggest that the air war is being won by Stronger In.
The ‘air war’ – the media narrative around an election – is a significant factor in the result of any election as it colours the information that the electorate use to decide which way to vote.
One of the reasons why Donald Trump dominated the Republican primary contest is that he dwarfed the earned media coverage of every other candidate; even when the field thinned to three candidates in April, Trump was still getting 100% more earned (as opposed to bought) TV coverage than his nearest opponent Ted Cruz.
Indeed in every US Presidential election since 1970 the share of earned media won by a candidate has been the best predictor of success (better than both nominations and donations).
You win the air war by bombarding newsrooms and news sources with stories, films and photos. When journalists are scouring Twitter in order to prepare a piece on ‘the horserace’ for the evening news or the next day’s headlines, content from the campaigns can help tip the balance on the nature of the coverage.
Whilst an analysis of 928 press articles by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism showed that 45 per cent were in favour of leaving while 27 per cent were in favour of staying, it seems the trend in TV coverage – which has greater reach as a source of news than print – is towards Remain.
Broadcasting watchdog News-watch have stated that from their analysis “the BBC has yet to accept that Brexit is mainstream, respectable and of significant public interest” and that they have “yet to find a programme that has been biased in favour of Brexit”. They have conducted regular analysis of flagship BBC TV news programmes and highlighted how framing and language has favoured the Remain campaign.
And the BBC isn’t alone for perceived bias, Vote Leave feel that ITV’s coverage of the referendum is so biased towards Remain that they lodged a (unsuccessful) complaint with Ofcom. The complaint claimed that between 6 April and 29 May, Stronger In campaigners were awarded 51 min 14 airtime versus “leave” at 39 min 29.
Vote Leave might claim that the fact that Remain are receiving greater coverage is because of institutional favouritism, but had Leave’s campaign been surprising, informative and even – dare I say it – entertaining, it’s hard to argue that these news outlets would have withheld it from their viewers.
And, least importantly, in my opinion the campaigning materials that Stronger In have deployed is of a far higher quality in terms of clarity, consistency and creative execution. From leaflets, to online videos to Referendum Broadcasts, the Vote Leave materials have been either scarce or shoddy.
Vote Leave have flitted between flimsy claims about reinvesting money saved from leaving the EU into the NHS and pulled punches on immigration. Stronger In on the other hand have been ruthlessly and creatively delivering a message centred on economic certainty, security and support amongst experts.
Whilst some might scoff at the idea that quality campaign materials make a difference to the nature of news coverage, it’s worth remember that journalists are people too and, like other normal people, they’re easily enchanted by simple stories told well.