Bad voting news on economic front

March 1, 1996

When the economy is doing badly, Government popularity takes a nosedive. That may sound like commonsense. But now it has been proved by politics lecturer Neil Gavin of Liverpool University.

He and his research assistant spent a year analysing economics coverage on television news. Taking topics, such as inflation, unemployment, interest rates and tax, they looked at whether the stories were good or bad news for the Government. The results were matched with the Government's poll ratings.

"The results were very, very clear," said Dr Gavin. "The relationship jumps out."

Their research, funded with a Pounds 25,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, found that for every piece of good or bad news the Government's popularity rose or fell by 0.2 per cent. The figure sounds small. But the effect in the long term is significant.

In any given week, the BBC and ITV run an average or two or three economic news stories. "Many small changes in the short term may make a considerable contribution to Government popularity in the medium term," said Dr Gavin.

The implication will not surprise anyone: by engineering an economic revival in the year before an election, a Government may gain an electoral advantage. The problem for governments is that such economic revivals are not so easy to bring about.

In follow-up research Dr Gavin found people had hazy ideas about economic terms like gross domestic product, the public sector borrowing requirement, interest rates and inflation. But that did not prevent them knowing when an economic story was bad news for the Government.

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