That’s the takeaway I got from a Media Society event at the Groucho Club last week with Trevor Kavanagh, the political editor of the Sun from 1983-2005.
Now the Sun sells roughly half as many copies, though it remains the U.K.’s most popular newspaper.
“The difference between then and now is we don’t have the circulation we once had,” Kavanagh said.
Contrast that with readers of other Tory-supporting titles including the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, who more reliably vote for the Conservatives.
Particularly in an election where neck-and-neck polls show neither party winning a majority, the Sun’s swinging readers – and therefore the Sun itself – still matters. And it doesn’t pull any punches.
“Labour’s sham manifesto is an insult to voters’ intelligence,” the Sun judged in an April 14 editorial the day after Labour launched its manifesto. “If your motivation is that Miliband will run the economy more sensibly than David Cameron, you should google psychiatrists in your area as soon as possible,” the editorial said.
In a Channel 4/Sky television interview last month Miliband said his criticism of Murdoch showed he was “tough enough” to be prime minister. “Thanks for 2 mentions,” Murdoch replied on twitter “Only met [you] once for all of 2 minutes when you embarrassed me with over the top flattery.”
This academic paper from the late 90s takes a look at some of these issues in more depth. Personally, I don’t think newspapers do much direct persuading any more – if they ever did.
But in so-called “agenda setting”, influencing what topics politicians, broadcasters and people in general talk about, their influence is probably still larger than any other column in public life.