Television News, Economic Perceptions and Political Preferences in Britain, 1997–2001


David Sanders is professor of government, University of Essex, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom, ( Neil T. Gavin is senior lecturer in politics and communication studies, The University of Liverpool, Liverpool L7 7ZT, United Kingdom, (


The paper seeks to establish a simple three-stage argument. It is argued, first, that the critical proximate economic source of party preferences is heavily valenced—that what matters most to voters are the relative economic management capabilities of the main rival parties. Second, these “valenced” perceptions of party competence are themselves derived primarily from voters’ economic evaluations, and in particular from their personal prospective evaluations. Third, these evaluations derive more from the way in which the media, and in particular television news programs, present economic developments than they do from “objective” changes in the “real” economy. These propositions are tested against monthly time-series data drawn from the United Kingdom during the first period of New Labour government 1997–2001. The data set employed combines aggregate-level opinion poll data, “objective” measures of the macroeconomy, and data derived from a systematic content analysis of television news coverage of the economy. The empirical results provide preliminary support for all three propositions.