How media has affected our voting behaviours over the centuries

5 mins read

Voting behaviour has evolved significantly in Britain over the centuries and it has been greatly influenced by the ever changing face of media.

We know that in the eighteenth century, voting was allocated to the limited 5% of the population who belonged to the elite or landed class.

By the nineteenth century, British politics had faced considerable instability and threat, and this brought forth the Great Reform Act of 1832 which extended the franchise.

However, it is understood that the nineteenth century was one of great political activism and debate due to the age of enlightenment and civil unrest. The broadening learned middle class discussed the British political system through the growing print trade or academic pamphlets as well as the arts which included poetry, prose, music and paintings.

But by the twentieth century politics in Britain had finally broken through oppressive and restrictive barriers which had concerned previous centuries. Not only had politics become more democratic and MPs had to work harder to win their seat, the franchise had drastically grown as following 1928, all men and women in Britain could vote and Westminster had a greater need to attract the extensive and diverse public and secure their loyalty.

So how was this achieved? And how did the media affect party representation?

Well, when the Labour Party began in 1900, Britain was still in the age of newspaper prominence and parties relied on literary wit to express their individual ideologies and promises to the people.

The turn of the century also welcomed a development in photography and photos were frequently printed of members of parliament, but it was still an uncreative time as images were rigid and uninviting and did little to influence public opinion towards MPs.

But by the 1930s, radio had become a great phenomenon and the public lapped up the chance to listen to their politicians’ voices. King George VI said in 1939 that it was just like going into the nations’ homes and speaking to each and every one of them in person.

The age of radio gave birth to the age of personality and MPs had to develop studied charisma and charm as they gained an audio relationship with the mass population of Britain.

Prime Ministers such as Winston Churchill met this new challenge head on and led the nation through his emotive radio speeches during the years of WW2.

However, as the decades rolled on, the age of television and internet evolved and made visual representation more ruthlessly significant.

By the time the dynamic Margaret Thatcher was in power during the 1980s, imagine had become the name of the game. Images flooded televisions and the government saw politics begin to move away from trusting policy and towards grooming publicity.

When Tony Blair’s New Labour government took office in 1997, the time for instant internet sensations and spin doctors had arrived. Blair’s era faced constant online updates where photos and headlines never slept but streamed the net.

Prime Ministers such as Blair may have been intelligent politicians, but they had become well trained actors who understood that politics was no longer only about manifestos but talented and convincing performances.

But the story did not stop there. Now in the early twenty-first century, social media has gained power. Recent years has seen an increase in citizen journalism as the public engage with politics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs.

By 2010, news had become constant both in text and visual form. However, it was no longer just being sourced and edited by experts. Opinions on politicians’ public and private reputations and affairs were and still are being heavily discussed by the everyday voter online and is accessible by an ever widening demographic.

That is why for the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National and UK Independence Parties, the General Election of May 2015 is not just about good old fashioned politics. These politicians will also be concerned by the weight of the watching worlds’ eyes because of the ever changing, powerful and manipulative face of British media.

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