New data show the media really are ignoring the Greens

Green supporters often say their party is ignored by the media. The proposal to exclude Natalie Bennett from the leaders’ debates triggered the latest protests, but this is a long-running argument.

In particular, Greens point to the coverage that Ukip get, which they say is much more than the Greens get, and unfairly so.

I’ve never been quite convinced by this. Ukip have at least twice the popular support of the Greens, so it seems natural that they should get more coverage.

But now I’ve measured how much coverage each party gets, I’ve realised I was wrong. Even after factoring in their relative levels of popular support, Ukip get several times more coverage than the Greens.

More coverage than the Greens, and growing

I’ve searched for how many times Ukip and the Green Party were mentioned by UK national newspapers each month since January 2012* – and compared it with the voting intent for both parties in the Ipsos Mori monthly political monitor.

The dominance of Ukip coverage (purple bars), relative to the Greens (green bars) is striking:

What we really want to know, though, is how proportionate the coverage is to each party’s popular support.

Dividing the number of mentions by the parties’ poll ratings gives a sort of conversion score: how many articles they get for each percentage point of popular support they have.

Using this we see that Ukip get far more coverage relative to their support than the Greens do. This chart divides the number of media mentions by each party’s poll score at the time – so if their coverage was proportionate to their support, the lines would be the same height.

It’s interesting to look at this in three distinct phases.

From January to November 2012, Ukip and the Greens had exactly the same average poll score. Even then, Ukip got more than twice the coverage of the Greens.

Then, from December 2012 to April 2014, Ukip’s poll rating surged while the Greens didn’t make much progress. During this period, Ukip’s coverage-to-support ratio also improved, while the Greens’ went down. The result: Ukip were getting more than three times the coverage of the Greens, per supporter.

Since May 2014, the Greens have experienced their own poll increase – but their ratio of coverage to support has got worse still. At the same time, Ukip’s has got even better. Over these months, Ukip’s coverage per supporter has grown to more than six times that of the Greens.

The Greens are now at around the same polling level Ukip were at during the last three months of 2012. Then, Ukip averaged 326 mentions a month; now, the Greens average 64.

Why do centre and left-wing papers favour Ukip?

To which it might be said, so what? Newspapers don’t have a duty to be balanced. If they quite like Ukip, and are appalled by the Greens, they’re free to talk up the former and ignore the latter.

But as an explanation that doesn’t convince me. This isn’t just the coverage in the right-wing media: it’s in all the main UK papers.

The next chart shows the ratio of mentions of Ukip to mentions of the Greens in each of the main papers – so the higher the number, the more Ukip are mentioned relative to the Greens.

The dashed line shows the ratio of the Ukip to Green average poll scores throughout the period. If the parties’ coverage was proportionate to their poll score, the bars would be the same height as this line.

This is really striking, given that I’m sure plenty of people in senior positions at the Guardian, Independent and FT would be more likely to vote Green than Ukip. Yet each give Ukip more coverage, relative to their polling score, than they give the Greens.

Why does this happen?

I suspect the answer is simple: Ukip are more interesting. They’re more interesting in terms of party politics because they threaten to rip apart the biggest and oldest party in Parliament (the right was relatively united, so Ukip’s strength particularly damages the Tories; in contrast the Greens are mostly taking support from former Lib Dem voters). And Ukip are more interesting in themselves, with their outspoken, charismatic, unusual leader** who loves a headline and knows how to get one.

The Greens are different. As a thought experiment, suppose Russell Brand became their leader. It’s hard to imagine their coverage not increasing hugely, even without any changes in policy (I imagine he would love most of the current Green policies). I doubt such a change would be universally welcomed in the Green Party.

By the way, I’m not making any claims here about media coverage leading to popular support. I imagine it does, though I’m sure it’s not completely straightforward.

So, there’s no denying that the Greens get, relative to Ukip, far less newspaper coverage than their support predicts. In part that’s because of reasons that are beyond the Greens’ control. Parts of the media talk about Ukip more because they prefer them to the Greens; and for all newspapers, Ukip are interesting in their potential to split the Tories.

But the gap in coverage is also partly for reasons that the Greens can control. Their approach to politics is less dramatic, less confrontational, less shouty. They could change this if they wanted, and would get more coverage – but I doubt many Greens want to. In part, then, less coverage is the price the Green Party pays for doing politics the way it finds comfortable.


* The newspapers I used in all of this were: The FT, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Times, Express, Mail, Mirror and Sun, and their Sundays. I would have liked to include the broadcasters but don’t have records of their content. I’m aware Question Time guests are often used as an example of a similar point. The text I searched for was “UK Independence Party”, “Ukip” or “Nigel Farage” and “Green Party, “Natalie Bennett” or “Caroline Lucas”. It’s not perfect: some of them are for parties in other countries, and it’s possible articles mentioned “the Greens” without the other terms (though I haven’t been able to find examples of this), and so on. But it doesn’t seem too bad.

** Yep, he’s a white, male, middle-aged career politician with a career politician’s background, but he doesn’t talk or act like any other senior politician (apart from, perhaps, Ken Clarke).

  1. Nicky says:

    The Whig Party got 5 minutes on Radio 4 this morning. I expect they will overtake the Greens as the election looms.

  2. Robert Lindsay says:

    Has someone monitored BBC mentions? Media should include TV. The BBC in particular, is far more influential than any other single media outlet. Yet I believe it’s coverage is even more unbalanced in favour of UKIP and against the Greens.

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