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18 May, 2005

Anti-chicken or hostile to the egg?

Neil refers to an interesting entry in the Observer blog.  Last year, MORI conducted a poll to investigate the role of newspapers in forming public opinion.  The Observer commented on the statistic that readers of The Sun and The Star seem to think (recent) immigrants account for 25-26% of the UK population, whereas the true figure is 7%.  The implication is that those papers' editorial policies have grossly skewed public perception.

MORI's own article about the survey is even more interesting. Apparently, readers of The Guardian tend to hold views most consistently different from the national average (The Observer is effectively 'The Guardian on Sunday', so it's unsurprising they didn't mention that part).
This is a little worrying, as two-thirds of Labour MPs are reported to be regular Guardian readers – a majority of the members of the governing party, supposedly representing the interests of their constituents, are likely to hold views differing from those of their constituents. That in itself isn't startlingly surprising, of course – privileged MPs and unemployed chavs are unlikely to have much in common, to pick an extreme example – but the nature of the difference and its apparent cause are slightly unexpected.

Another noteworthy conclusion was that those who read no newspaper at all are likely to be much closer to the average view on all issues, whereas readers of particular papers show wide variations.
The implication is that the 'uninformed' are less influenced by the agenda of opinion-formers, but remember that this poll specifically related to newspapers. I don't know whether MORI filtered-out the complication, but newspapers aren't the sole mass medium – non-readers might be TV viewers or radio listeners, and absorb influences via those routes.
I also wonder whether MORI isolated those like me who don't read newspapers, watch TV news nor listen to the radio, but obtain current-affairs information solely from websites (including that of the Guardian). A different article in the, er, Guardian quotes other recent survey data saying that that 44% of US news consumers visit a net portal at least daily, whereas only 19% read a daily 'dead tree' newspaper.

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