Election 2024: The Sun vs TikTok

The nation’s newspapers are traditionally a key battleground where an election can be lost or won. But to what extent has this significance waned following the rise of #social #media?

The Sun’s “Time for a new manager” headline today only reflects the result we are all expecting. This time round it won’t be ‘The Sun Wot Won It’– a reference to the commonly-held view of the paper’s influence over the 1992 election result when its “…will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights” front page on election day played a key role in the surprise win for John Major’s Conservative Party.

Newspapers used to have a monopoly on opinionated journalism in the UK before the introduction of social media and other news websites. Their power has undoubtedly waned given the way people consume media today. According to a recent YouGov poll, only 14% of Britons now get their news from a physical paper, although over a third of those are 50 to 64 year olds. This is in stark contrast to 42% of people getting their news from a newspaper’s website and app, and 43% from social media. This digital shift is further highlighted by The Sun’s circulation figures falling from 3.5 million in 1992 to 1.2 million in 2020, a more than 65% drop in less than three decades.

However just as voters are no longer as stubbornly tribal as they once were, so too do they now have access to a plethora of titles, channels and streaming options as never before. From GB News to City AM. From Politico to The Rest is Politics, there is something for all tastes and persuasions. According to YouGov, TV is actually now the primary choice for Brits aged over 40 to access news. No wonder poor Rishi and Keir’s teams have been insanely busy trying to maintain interest in the election across multiple outlets to try to reach all possible audiences. Yet does the immense range of sources on offer to the public only serve to dilute their impact?  

This 2024 election has been described as the first Tiktok election. So it will be interesting to see how Reform fares in today’s polling given we are told Farage outperforms rivals in terms of engagement and viewers on the social media channel. This is particularly intriguing as, according to YouGov, a third of young Britons have been reached with election content on TikTok. Labour is also said to have been more successful in its deployment of social media content and ‘memes’ to rally support from young voters and poke fun at the Tories than the latter’s old-school, polished videos of Sunak speaking to camera deployed on the Conservatives’ accounts.  We already know younger generations consume their media through digital/online channels. A recent YouGov study found social media is the most popular news source for under 40s with Facebook leading, followed by YouTube, Insta, X then Tiktok. However, interestingly, the same study found Facebook and YouTube are also the most dominant social media channels for the over 40s. 

Arguably the Tories will lose today’s election for reasons other than their media management strategy. However, the 2024 election shows us the challenge of campaigning in this modern media age. The parties had to work hard to target a disparate electorate via novel formats, programmes, news sites and channels, based on detailed data analysis for each outlet. Winning over Rupert Murdoch’s red top title is no longer enough in a world of viral soundbites.

Thursday 4th July 2024

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