How does media affect political behaviour -UK voting behaviour

A discussion on mass media’s effects on voting behaviour and forming political opinions in the UK in relation to Brexit and immigration.

In this era of rapid technological advancements and instant information dissemination facilitated by the internet, the age of information has shed new light on the political landscape. Undoubtedly, technology plays an integral role in our everyday lives and politics.

However, the influence of mass media has long been the cornerstone of politics, dating back to its inception. During the early stages of mass media, newspapers held significant sway in shaping public opinion and influencing people’s behaviour.

With the advent of radio and television, the influence of mainstream media further intensified, dictating the political narrative among the populace. Here, the question is how can the media shape the political narrative and guide people’s political behaviour. This piece will analyse how media affects political behaviour in the UK, and worldwide and maybe question whether our opinions are our own. 

Mass media, democracy and voting behaviour

Thomas Jefferson once said, “ Information is the currency of democracy.” It is not far-fetched to believe that whoever controls information also has political power. Throughout history, numerous instances have validated this notion, with bans on certain books or censorship of specific information being employed to manipulate the masses.

During times of crisis, people instinctively seek information about the situation, often turning to the media for guidance. While the notion of media influencing the dissemination of knowledge, particularly in political matters, may evoke Orwellian imagery, it is substantiated by statistical evidence. Fox News in the United States exemplifies a prime illustration of manipulative mainstream media shaping political and social propaganda.

How does the media affect the political behaviour of the voter base? To discuss this, we are looking at the UK electoral behaviour during pivotal points in the political landscape. 

How relevant is the media to voting? Information is critical for political decision-making, and mass media is the most significant outlet. It is how people learn about policies they support throughout the electoral cycle and decide which policies they align most with. It is a critical eye and a propaganda tool, depending on which narrative they choose to go with.

However, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, there being more available information does not necessarily mean a more informed voting base. Fake news and the creation of echo chambers only work to justify people’s pre-existing biases. On the other hand, this does not mean the media is powerless to sway public opinion. 

The terms given to some of the prominent ways the media controls the political narrative are “priming” and “framing”. Knowing how they manipulate a political narrative is a decisive step in developing their own independent and more well-informed political decisions for voters. Hence let’s dive into what those terms mean. 

Priming: It can be best explained simply as influencing someone’s thoughts or actions through exposure.

Priming draws attention to the issue chosen by whoever is in charge of setting the agenda in media companies. In a political context, topics high on the plan can serve as a basis for judging particular politicians’ or policies’ successes or failures. It gives the audience “something to think about” and can have long-term solid implications in political decision-making.

One example of the long-term effect of priming was Blair’s decision to participate in the Iraq War. As a result of the media priming in regards to his decision, media coverage altered the attitudes towards Blair significantly because the war was a high issue in the political agenda, thus changing the voting behaviour in the next elections. 

Framing: Framing is perhaps the most influential way to manipulate a narrative in the media. It concerns the “way” a message is framed, and meaning presented. News agencies can frame a story in three different ways; positive, negative or neutral. 

The BBC is often regarded for its commitment to impartial coverage, yet the notion of achieving pure neutrality in framing can be scrutinised. The concept of “neutral framing” encompasses two distinct interpretations. It is crucial to differentiate between providing an impartial perspective and employing a balanced approach incorporating both positive and negative framings to represent opposing viewpoints.

Although these approaches may share similar intentions, their methods differ and yield distinct outcomes. Therefore, any media outlet attempting to convey a neutral tone by emphasising both the negative narratives of a specific story may inadvertently mislead their audience.  

Regarding UK politics, the long-lasting effects of mass media influence are seen the most with Brexit and the continuous immigration/terrorism problem. First, let’s take Brexit as an example. During the referendum, words such as “immigration” and “separation” were the most used in the media, which could be argued to influence the people’s voting behaviour.

To reinforce this, the statistics show that many voters voted for separation and labour in the following elections.  This strange misalignment implies the media’s ability to persuade public opinion against party loyalty, considered one of the most potent underlying factors in political decision-making. 

Similarly, threat inflation in the media in regards to terrorism and especially foreign terrorism that is rooted in islamophobia, is one of the most prominent examples of negative framing and priming. Statistics show that deaths from terrorism in the UK have declined significantly between 1970 and 2020 despite biased media telling us otherwise. 


The media impact political decisions that can be helpful but also dangerous in creating hostility against certain minority groups or causing people to make ill-informed decisions due to manipulation. In this era of media-driven political discourse, citizens must be vigilant in assessing media outlets’ credibility, objectivity, and underlying motivations.

By understanding the techniques employed by the media and actively seeking diverse perspectives, individuals can make more independent, informed political decisions, contributing to a healthier democratic process. Ultimately, a well-informed electorate is vital for maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of democratic systems.