Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days
Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days

Is it really the Sun Wot Won It? The impact of media endorsements on elections

Words by:
Senior Account Manager
July 4, 2024

Media endorsements used to be treated like gold dust – the be all and end all of election campaigns, one of the moments pundits looked out for. But now, as The Spectator puts it ‘they may not command the power that they once did’. Despite this shift in mentality, as well as the general shift in how media is consumed, it’s still an important moment of any election campaign, and can often tell us a lot about reader sentiment of these publications.  

How did Fleet Street used to vote? 

“It’s the Sun wot won it” has gone down in British political history as proof of how powerful newspapers can be when it comes to swinging elections. The now-infamous Sun front-page headline followed John Major’s slim victory in the 1992 election, after the then Conservative leader was endorsed by the newspaper with the highest readership in the UK. The only time – until now – that The Sun switched over to endorse a Labour leader is in 1997 when they backed Tony Blair. Their infamous phrase reemerged after Blair’s landslide victory. 

In the most recent 2019 general election, Fleet Street particularly favoured the Tories. National papers including The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Times, and the Daily Telegraph all endorsed the Conservatives, being especially keen on their Brexit stance and warning readers of what a Corbyn government would entail. Unsurprisingly, given its left-wing stance, the Guardian stood out by endorsing the Labour Party. The 2019 election had the newspapers backing candidates they were expected to back – there were no surprises from Fleet Street this time around.   

The times are changing 

As we have seen over the past few days, the final week of the campaign is when most papers release their endorsements. Some endorsements were to be expected – the Guardian has supported Labour throughout the campaign, and the Telegraph will always back the Tories. However, there were a few particularly significant and telling swings. 

The first notable endorsements included The Economist and the Financial Times – both of which endorsed Sir Keir Starmer to be the next Prime Minister. This is mostly a reflection of Labour’s shift under the new leadership to the center-left. Both papers have a financial market-led approach and tout the benefits of Britain being seen as a sensible power on the world stage.  

The most remarkable endorsements have been The Sunday Times and The Sun. Despite their right-wing history and editorial stances, they’ve both endorsed Starmer in this election. This is arguably a proof point for Labour’s successful move towards broader appeal – but also a reflection of national frustrations with the Conservatives. The point that The Sunday Times made in its almost reluctant endorsement is that the past few years of Tory rule have been chaotic and counter-productive.  

Who is deciding the election? 

It’s clear from the polling data that Labour doesn’t need the endorsement of major titles like The Times and The Sun to win over the public. However, there is still something to be said for the value of these endorsements. Despite the waning power of the press, Starmer’s team was pushing for the Murdoch-owned News UK endorsement – most notably because of The Sun’s reputation for backing winners. 

On the other hand, some of the more ‘stand out’ or surprising endorsements are demonstrative of the shift in political leanings of these papers’ readership. Right now, the only paper with a Tory majority readership is the Daily Mail. This includes a relatively equal Labour/Conservative split across the Daily Express and Daily Telegraph’s readership – two historically right-wing newspapers.  

Overall, endorsements aren’t the key to winning elections they once were – but they are still important to political parties from a tactical point of view. In light of todays’ front pages, Labour will likely go into tonight’s count with a renewed sense of confidence.  


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