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Boycott of pro-Brexit Sun newspaper helped cut Euroscepticism in Merseyside, study claims

The Sun boycott

A boycott of The Sun in Liverpool led to people in Merseyside having more positive attitudes towards the European Union, a study has claimed.

The report on tabloid media influence over attitudes towards the EU claims the boycott cut Euroscepticism in the county by more than ten per cent.

It also noted a “substitution effect of Sun readership to pro-EU papers”, particularly rival tabloid the Daily Mirror.

The Sun has faced a boycott in Merseyside ever since its coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, which saw it wrongly claim fans of Liverpool FC had behaved despicably during the crush that claimed 96 lives.

The paper has twice apologised for its coverage under former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, but continues to face a city-wide embargo in Liverpool while Sun reporters are banned from Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC.

The report, authored by London School of Economics behavioural political scientist Florian Foos and Zurich University’s Daniel Bischof, says the long-standing Sun boycott lowered Euroscepticism among the “unskilled” working class who “made up a large share of Sun readers before the disaster”.

The report said “attitudes towards the EU got significantly more positive in Merseyside during the boycott”.

Liverpool, The Wirral and Sefton in Merseyside all voted Remain.

The study, which used data from the annual British Social Attitudes survey and is available online, added: “…the boycott of the most important Eurosceptic newspaper – The Sun in Merseyside as a consequence of The Sun’s reporting on the Hillsborough sporting disaster – led to a decrease of Euroscepticism in Merseyside, which we estimate to amount to around 11 percentage points.

“Moreover, our results suggest that The Sun boycott in Merseyside might have decreased the Leave vote share in Merseyside in the 2016 EU referendum.”

The authors said the study showed “sustained media campaigns on emerging issues can have large, lasting, and ultimately, consequential effects on public opinion, and public policy”.

Analysis of national newspapers by Press Gazette in June 2016 found a strong pro-Brexit bias among the UK’s most read titles. The research found that The Sun had been “strongly biased” in favour of leaving the European Union in terms of its front page coverage.

The Sun declined to comment for this article.

Read the report in full.

Picture: Reuters

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2 thoughts on “Boycott of pro-Brexit Sun newspaper helped cut Euroscepticism in Merseyside, study claims”

  1. From Liverpool political journalist Larry Neild: So Liverpool showing the door to the Sun was the reason for the city voting to stick with the European Union, according to a piece of academic research. Unfortunately, I don’t buy it, and I don’t buy the Sun either by the way.
    It seemed to me a case of a few university people coming up with a novel conclusion, and then going out to find the questions.
    I’m sure that if every household in Liverpool had been supplied with regular free copies of the Sun, the result in Liverpool would have been more or less the same.
    You have to go back way beyond the appalling Hillsborough tragedy to seek the answers. As a journalist I’ve been covering and following Liverpool’s roller-coaster political ride since the early 1970s.
    It started with the de-industrialisation of the city coupled with the arrival of the Thatcher government.
    In Liverpool the Conservatives remain an extinct species on the political map, with not a single Tory councillor or MP in sight, and unlikely to be rediscovered anytime soon.
    As the factories were closing, in the early eighties, as though an epidemic had struck the city, one Conservative minister spoke of a organised decline of the city. The Militants arrived, attracting crowds at rallies not since this side of World War 2.
    The Conservative governments turned off the money tap, robbing Liverpool to pay better off southern towns and cities.
    The one thing that gave Liverpool hope was the European Union. While Westminster was punishing the “Socialist Republic of Liverpool” Brussels was pouring millions of euros into the city. Building projects started with familiar “We couldn’t have done it without EU” signs everywhere.
    Liverpool One, one of the most successful city centre rebuilding programmes in Europe, was kickstarted with Brussels money, creating tens of thousands of jobs. It was the start of a renaissance of Liverpool that now basks in the limelight of being a tourism hotspot, with no thanks at all to London.
    The Labour Party in Liverpool, and the city’s first directly elected mayor Joe Anderson, constantly reminded local people of the lifeline Brussels had thrown to the city when it was all but abandoned by London. Even recently Boris Johnson announced a new rail link between Manchester and Leeds, the darling city of the Conservatives in what I am afraid I call the Northern Slaughterhouse.
    The majority of people in Liverpool may well we working-class, usually not university educated, but they have something even Oxbridge can’t deliver, a special kind of Scouse nous. Listen to university educated Roger Phillips as he administers the daily phone-in on BBC Radio Merseyside. These working class graduates of the university of life give Phillips a run for his money with their thinking and their arguments.
    Liverpool’s decision to stay in the EU was nothing to do with the Sun, in my opinion. It was because the city is loyal to those that stuck by its side at its greatest need. The European Objective One program shovelled money at Liverpool while Westminster was busy extracting it. It seems to me the punishment continues.
    It was with a heavy heart I voted leave, because as a political journalist I had a front-row seat to what was really happening. But for the same reason I voted leave in 1975, the EU remains a secretive and undemocratic institution, so I can never support it. But I will willingly acknowledge it transformed the fortunes of a city that a Conservative government would have allowed to die. So its easy to see why in this Conservative desert the majority in Liverpool cast their eyes towards Brussels. Nowt to do with the Sun in my book.
    Liverpool voted to remain in the EU at by a 58-42 margin, and for the record, Liverpool hissing cousins Manchester (where the Sun is still on sale) voted to remain by an even bigger margin, 60-40.

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