Negative coverage of the EU in UK newspapers nearly doubled over the last 40 years, study finds

Author: Paul Copeland & Nathaniel Copsey


A study co-authored by researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has revealed that negative coverage of the European Union in UK newspapers increased from 24 per cent to 45 per cent between 1974 and 2013.

The study analysed 16,400 newspaper articles in five periods during which the EU was highly prominent in the UK news: (1) 1974–75 during which the UK held a post-election referendum on membership; (2) 1985–86 during the negotiations and agreement of the Single European Act; (3) 1991–92 during negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty; (4) 2001–02 during the Nice Treaty negotiations; (5) 2012–13 around the time of David Cameron’s pledge to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and hold an in-or-out referendum on membership.

Articles in five UK newspapers (The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, and The Times) were categorized in terms of their reporting of the EU, which was classified as either positive, negative, mixed, or factual. Adjusting the data for readership, the results show that negative reporting has significantly increased between 1974 and 2013, at the expense of positive and neutral coverage. Positive coverage overall has fallen from 25 per cent in 1974-75 to 10 per cent in 2012-13. 

UK newspapers

An individual analysis of each newspaper showed that negative coverage increased steadily between the mid-1970s and mid-2010s, a period in which centre-right tabloids increased their coverage of the EU. By the mid-2010s 85 per cent of EU coverage in the Daily Mail was negative, compared with less than 25 per cent in the mid mid-1970s.

Among centre-right broadsheet newspapers (The Times and the Financial Times) meanwhile, coverage of the EU remained stable and tended to be factual and based on a pragmatic “cost-benefit” perspective.

The researchers argue that the study supports the idea that Euroscepticism in the UK is a classic case of ‘issue capture’, where a small but committed minority view comes to be accepted into the mainstream of public life. These findings are supported by opinion poll data which show that negative opinions on the EU across the UK are relatively low and stable over time. 

Read the full story at Queen Mary University's own page here or in the Journal of Common Market Studies.


About the Author

Paul Copeland & Nathaniel Copsey

Dr Paul Copeland is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Queen Mary University. His research focuses on the political economy of European integration, particularly with respect to the EU’s competence in employment and social policy. He is regularly invited to provide expert opinion on these matters by the House of Lords, the European Parliament and the European Commission. He has also provided consultancy work for Oxfam and the World Health Organization. He completed his BA, MA (RES) and PhD all at the University of Manchester. He also worked as an English language teacher in both the Czech Republic and South Korea. He is currently director of the Centre for European Research at QMUL and in 2015 was elected as a committee member of the Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES).

Professor Nathaniel Copsey is Professor of Politics at Aston University. His research interests centre on the European Union, its politics and policies, and its relationship with its Member States. He previously worked on the politics and governance of Poland and Ukraine, with an emphasis on their path towards European integration. More recently his research has turned to British relations with the EU and the politics of reform, referendum and Brexit. He was awarded a Jean Monnet Chair in European Union politics in 2013 for a research project entitled Rethinking European Integration. His latest book Rethinking the European Union was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2015. On graduating from the College of Europe, he worked as a presenter at Telewizja Polska in Warsaw and subsequently in London at the international think tank, the Policy Network. He has taught at the University of Helsinki, College of Europe, the European Studies Institute of MGIMO in Moscow and Sciences-Po Lille. He remains a Visiting Professor at Sciences-Po Rennes.

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About the Author

Paul Copeland & Nathaniel Copsey

Dr Paul Copeland is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Queen Mary University. His research focuses on the political economy of European integration, particularly with respect to the EU’s competence in employment and social policy. He is regularly invited to provide expert opinion on these matters by the House of Lords, the European Parliament and the European Commission. He has also provided consultancy work for Oxfam and the World Health Organization. He completed his BA, MA (RES) and PhD all at the University of Manchester. He also worked as an English language teacher in both the Czech Republic and South Korea. He is currently director of the Centre for European Research at QMUL and in 2015 was elected as a committee member of the Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES).

Professor Nathaniel Copsey is Professor of Politics at Aston University. His research interests centre on the European Union, its politics and policies, and its relationship with its Member States. He previously worked on the politics and governance of Poland and Ukraine, with an emphasis on their path towards European integration. More recently his research has turned to British relations with the EU and the politics of reform, referendum and Brexit. He was awarded a Jean Monnet Chair in European Union politics in 2013 for a research project entitled Rethinking European Integration. His latest book Rethinking the European Union was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2015. On graduating from the College of Europe, he worked as a presenter at Telewizja Polska in Warsaw and subsequently in London at the international think tank, the Policy Network. He has taught at the University of Helsinki, College of Europe, the European Studies Institute of MGIMO in Moscow and Sciences-Po Lille. He remains a Visiting Professor at Sciences-Po Rennes.

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