How much did media Bias contribute to Brexit and Leave?

Recently the Leave campaign has been found guilty of electoral fraud and fined by the Electoral Commission.

Since these are facts that can’t be disputed, various parts of the Leave fraternity have been attempting to make arguments that in some way mitigate the offence. One of the more common arguments is the “Pamphlet Defence” which goes like this:

The amount over spent by Leave is tiny compared to the £9m spent by the Government on remain propaganda delivered to every household. 

Unfortunately for Leave there are a number of holes in this defence.

  • Most importantly Leave broke the law and Remain did not.
  • The spending was Government spending, nothing to do with the Remain campaign, it’s a false equivalent.

However the most damning point for Leave is actually a lack of accounting. If you want to introduce additional non campaign spend to an equation then let’s count everything, not just the bits that make you look good. Let’s count media bias to Leave and Remain.

Estimating media bias is actually quite simple. The technical approach is to use EMV (Equivalent Media Value) which simply counts the column inches devoted to a topic and then says what you could have sold that space for if it had been advertising instead.

This calculation makes £9m in leaflet spend look like Monopoly money. Imagine £109m spent on Leave over the campaign and you’re closer to reality. This is how the method works.

Number of UK major daily papers = 7

Of which number pro leave = 5

Time devoted to leave arguments =365 x 2 (this covers just the campaign period. You could count x40 if you want an estimate of all the pro leave propaganda)

Average EMV of leave coverage per day =£30K

Realistically £30K is understated. That buys you on average a quarter page in upfront sections of the Nationals. Leave propaganda was often front page and significantly more than this space.

Put these all together you get

LEAVE : 5*365*2*£30,000 =  £109,500,000

REMAIN: 2*365*2*£30,000 = £43,800,000.

This also supposes the circulation of the Remain papers is equivalent to the Leave. Of course that really isn’t the case since Leave is strongly dominant in the tabloids. So again we’ve understated the impact here.

But then let’s account for that £9m in leaflet costs and add all the cost to Remain.

REMAIN + Leaflet = £52,800,000

Which results in a pro leave bias in spend over the two year campaign of £56.7m. 

How realistic is this? Well to recap.

1. We understated the media value, the cost to buy that space in advertising would have been much higher.

2. We understated the circulation of Leave papers. The true impact will be higher. See reference here.

3. We attributed a Government leaflet to the Remain campaign even though it had nothing to do with Remain and they couldn’t influence it.

So not only did Leave break the law, it also massively out spent Remain due to the support of the pro leave press.

 

 

 

 

 

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