Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Media and Communication

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Single election broadcast influenced one third of viewers’ votes

December 4th, 2017

A study by Professor Jay Blumler, Professor Stephen Coleman and Dr Christopher Birchall from the School of Media and Communication has discovered that the BBC’s Question Time Leaders’ Special may have swung more than a million people’s votes in June’s General Election according to the first in-depth analysis of its effect on the poll.

The study, which was conducted for the Electoral Reform Society, found that 34% of the programme’s four million-plus viewers said it helped them decide who to vote for. Younger viewers, who were more likely to be undecided before watching the programme, were also most strongly influenced by it. This reflects the rising interest in politics among 18-24 year olds: in 2015 only 50% described themselves as fairly interested, but this year the figure jumped to 80%, bringing them in line with older voters.

Younger viewers also swung most strongly behind Labour after watching the programme. Among viewers as a whole, Jeremy Corbyn scored highest on all the key metrics which voters saw as important to leaders’ performance.

The report’s authors concluded: “Debate is not only good for democracy, but a necessary condition. The Question Time Special, in which the two main party leaders appeared consecutively before a studio audience, was a valuable supplement to head-to-head debate, but not a satisfactory alternative. In the next election voters deserve to have an opportunity to watch both forms of televised debate.”

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “With over a third of viewers saying the BBC’s election programme influenced their vote, this study shows just how important TV debates have become for general elections in the UK.

“This research is proof that televised election debates are good for our democracy. That over 80 per cent of viewers said they talked about the QT Special with their friends and family shows it has a positive impact on political engagement. And 40 per cent said the programme made them more interested in the campaign. That’s good for all of us.”

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