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Media Context and the 2017 General Election: How traditional and social media shape elections

1 June 2017 - 28 February 2018

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Dan Stevens

CI/s in Exeter: Professor Susan Banducci, Dr Travis Coan

Funding awarded: £ 50,000

Sponsor(s): ESRC

About the research

The snap election called by Theresa May presents an urgent opportunity to assess and understand the role of media in British politics at a time when a fractured media system is being held at least partly responsible for presenting misleading information to voters.

Our previous research (ES/M010775/1) examined traditional (television, newspapers and radio) and social media during and after an election in which some form of coalition government was the expected outcome, confirmed by extensive and widely reported polls, and economic issues dwarfed all other coverage. Our aims were to: 1) Develop a model of information flows and intermedia agenda setting from traditional and social media; 2) Assess the contrasting influence of national, and sub-national media on specific constituencies and subsets of the electorate; 3) Understand the role of social media in the electoral process; 4) Examine media effects on learning, preference change during the campaign and perceptions of the legitimacy of the outcome in the post-election period.

Some of the key findings of our study have cast new light on intermedia agenda setting with respect to issues and leaders, as well as offering experimental evidence that post-election reactions to the same "broken manifesto promise" are highly contingent on attributions of responsibility. Two years later the electoral context has shifted, with a majority Conservative government, different leaders of almost all the major parties, Brexit is both the main issue and the ostensible reason the election was called, the possibility of the incumbent government gaining the largest proportion of the vote in a generation, and a growing distrust of polling data and the media e.g., 'fake news' and Twitter bots. This provides us with the opportunity to re-examine and extend our original aims in a contest of different leaders and different issues, "fake news" and a seeming far less competitive race. Taken together, these will allow us to address the extent to which media contribute to the ability of voters to hold governments accountable through the electoral process. We accomplish them using a combination of the existing infrastructure that we developed for large scale media data retrieval and analysis (ES/M010775/1 and ES/N012283/1), and a survey panel capturing clickstream activity, which will provide us with a unique opportunity to examine information search and exposure (e.g. filter bubbles).

Economic and Social Research Council