Dominating the Debate: Visibility Bias and Mentions of British MPs in Newspaper Reporting on Brexit

Published:

Recommended citation: Hönnige, Christoph, Dominic Nyhuis, Philipp Meyer, Philipp Köker & Susumu Shikano. 2019. Dominating the Debate: Visibility Bias and Mentions of British MPs in Newspaper Reporting on Brexit.

Abstract
Brexit has been the most important issue in British politics in recent years. Whereas the run-up to the 2016 referendum was dominated by extra-parliamentary actors, the issue moved back to Parliament after the vote. This paper analyses newspaper reporting on Brexit in major British outlets during the post-referendum phase from July 2017 to March 2019. We study the visibility of Members of Parliament to assess whether the debate was balanced between parties and individual MPs relative to their vote and seat share. We conduct an automated text analysis of 58,247 online and offline newspaper articles covering the ideological spectrum from left to right, and from pro-Brexit to anti-Brexit. Our main findings are: (1) Conservative politicians dominated the debate and (2) organized pro-Brexit MP pressure groups such as “Leave Means leave” were highly visible. This means that reporting was biased towards Conservative MPs and within the Conservative Party towards supporters of a hard Brexit. These findings are surprisingly stable across different types of newspapers. The results challenge previous analyses that found a greater degree of balance in reporting, but corroborate recent studies on the tonality of Brexit reporting which found a pro-Brexit bias.

Keywords
Brexit; newspaper analysis; media bias; visibility

Status
Accepted for publication at Political Research Exchange.