Newspaper criticism of the Labour Party has softened in the second half of the general election campaign as editors start to turn on the Tories, an academic analysis has found.
An audit of print media coverage by Loughborough University discovered that the Conservative Party was facing a surge in hostile press in the last two weeks of campaigning.
However, while it appeared the Conservatives were getting the most stick from editors based on story count, newspaper readers were still largely being fed an anti-Labour diet when the stories were weighted to reflect circulation.
The noticeable shift in tone seems to mirror slips in the Tory campaign, from its ‘dementia tax’ manifesto U-turn to Theresa May’s absence from a major TV debate.
Meanwhile, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn appear to have outperformed expectations. At the same time, the Tory poll lead over Labour has narrowed from 20-points plus - though surveys differ as to what extent.
The two graphs below produced by the university’s Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, and seen first by HuffPost UK, show the total number of negative stories subtracted from positive ones for each of the five main parties.
Figure 3.1 shows that while the Conservatives only recorded a small difference between levels of positive and negative stories in the first fortnight of the official campaign, coverage became much more critical during the second fortnight.
By contrast, the Labour Party’s negative press coverage continued to outstrip positive coverage, but to a less dramatic extent in the second two weeks.
Figure 3.2 indicates that once different circulations of the national newspapers are taken into account, Conservative coverage moved into net negative in the second fortnight compared to positive coverage on balance in the first.
The academics note the differences are because the bigger newspapers are “more muted in their criticism” of the Tories.
Last week’s report by the university showed that of ten national newspapers studied, only two - the Guardian and the Mirror - featured more positive coverage than negative of the Labour Party.
Loughborough University’s report also shows that ‘electoral process’ has been the most covered issue over the four weeks by both newspapers and broadcasters.
It suggests the media remains obsessed with what the election result means in terms of the make-up of parliament, majorities and coalitions, rather than individual issues such as healthcare or taxes.
Despite being the ‘Brexit election’, quitting the EU slipped to the fifth most discussed issue in the media in the third week of the campaign, and came amid Conservative disarray on its adult social care plans. The Manchester bombing also occurred in that week.
And underlining the “presidential” nature of campaigning, May and Corbyn continued to dominate the headlines in week four as they have since the very start.
Loughborough University analysed:
Television: Channel 4 News (7pm), Channel 5 News (6.30pm), BBC1 News at 10, ITV1 News at 10, Sky News 8-8.30pm.
Press: The Guardian, The I, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Mirror, The Sun, The Star.