It’s telling that no one knows about the astonishing, all-time record Jeremy Corbyn broke this election. The Labour leader has presided over the greatest movement in the polls in comparable history:
As I said last night on Newsnight, the movement in the polls over this campaign is bigger than in any election I've covered since 1945.
— Sir David Butler (@SirDavidButler) May 27, 2017
That means public opinion has changed by a greater measure during an election campaign than at any point since WWII, the beginning of a comparable political landscape.
Experts have predicted big gains for both the Conservatives and LibDems at May’s elections with Labour possibly in line to suffer losses of up to 50 seats.
But now the polls have undergone a record-breaking shift. Labour has slashed the Conservatives’ lead to just three points, according to a recent poll conducted by YouGov. That’s a monumental nine-point swing since Theresa May called the election. Political opinion has never changed so quickly.
Tony Blair enjoyed a swing of 10.2% in 1997, while Labour’s Clement Attlee received a 12% swing in 1945. But those swings are in comparison to the previous general election results – not public opinion of merely four weeks before.
Now, it’s unclear how national polls will translate into the constituency based parliamentary system. But while too much emphasis mustn’t be placed on such polls, the switch in opinion is unprecedented.
Why has the shift occurred?
Other than David Butler on Newsnight, the media isn’t reporting this historic achievement. Former Guardian journalist Johnathon Cook points out that to do so would be self-defeating. The media is the very reason for the swing.
Labour’s huge shift in the polls corresponds with the progression of the general election. So, what has changed since the election campaigning began? Corbyn has undoubtedly grown into his leadership position. But the more striking difference is how the media covers the two main parties in an election.
For one, broadcasters must follow impartiality rules that ensure the main parties receive somewhat balanced coverage. This is hugely significant. Numerous studies have shown that the BBC is generally biased against Corbyn’s politics.
A major content analysis from Cardiff University revealed that the BBC is pro-business and conservative-leaning in its coverage. No matter which party is in power. Another study on the coup against Corbyn by his own parliamentary party in June 2016 shows similar bias. The BBC gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the coup, according to content analysis by the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck.
But since the election, electoral law has forced broadcasters to give the Labour leader a fairer hearing, the BBC’s biased content has been offset to a significant extent.
Although, the bias appears stronger in other ways. Behind the scenes, the BBC has instructed staff to cover for Theresa May when she pulled out of all her local BBC interviews. And our public service broadcaster has censored a song calling May a “liar” that has reached the Top 10 in the charts. Still, overall, the broadcaster must offer a more balanced perspective.
More engaged public
So, on the one hand, we have more balanced media coverage. On the other, we have a more attentive public. Generally, people aren’t looking too closely at politics when there isn’t an election. In normal times, people tend to receive political information through the filter of the overwhelmingly big business-supporting, right-wing media. Since the election campaign began, people have been looking closer.
The combination of a fairer media and a more engaged public has led people to warm to Corbyn and his policies. The more the public see Corbyn uncut, the more they seem to like him. It appears his actual character is at odds with the media’s ‘hard-left’ caricature.
The opposite is true for May. By contrast, her high personal ratings were built predominantly on a mirage. A ‘safe pair of hands’ image of May, painted by the political and media establishment. Conservative strategists know this, which is why May’s campaign has been carefully stage-managed. May has hidden from not only the public and journalists, but also opposition leaders in refusing to debate.
In short, more direct coverage erodes May’s safe, competent, technocrat image. Whereas for Corbyn, more direct coverage erodes the negative caricature established by the media. A media embedded in the big business his platform is taking on.
Given the poll swing has been mostly defined by Labour gains, a new-found positive view of Corbyn seems to have more explanatory power than May’s abysmal campaign. Although both are no doubt significant.
Corbyn has made history with the greatest ever swing in the polls in such a short space of time. But it’s pretty obvious why the media isn’t celebrating the achievement. The establishment media is the main reason why the Labour leader was polling so badly in the first place.
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Featured image from Wikimedia