Tabloid Media Campaigns and Public Opinion: Quasi-Experimental Evidence on Euroscepticism in England (American Political Science Review, Online First)

Florian Foos and Daniel Bischof

Whether powerful media outlets have consequential effects on public opinion has been at the heart of theoretical and empirical discussions about the media's role in political life. The effects of media campaigns are difficult to study because citizens self-select into media consumption. Using a quasi-experiment -- the 30-years boycott of the most important Eurosceptic tabloid newspaper, The Sun, in Merseyside caused by the Hillsborough soccer disaster -- we identify the effects of "The Sun" boycott on attitudes towards leaving the EU. Difference-in-differences designs leveraging public opinion data spanning three decades, supplemented by official referendum results, show that the boycott caused EU attitudes to become more positive in treated areas. This effect is driven by cohorts socialised under the boycott, and by working class voters who stopped reading "The Sun". Our findings have implications for our understanding of public opinion, media influence, and ways to counter such influence, in contemporary democracies.

Photo credit: Stuart Wilks-Heeg