by Eric Kaufmann
Friday, 8
April 2022
Chart
10:45

British media is becoming more divided and hysterical

Descriptions of opposing ideologies as extreme are the new normal
by Eric Kaufmann

Polarisation is on the rise in Britain. A new paper by David Rozado and myself shows that major British media outlets have, like their American equivalents, grown increasingly extreme in their characterisation of opposing ideologies since 2000. Terms like ‘extreme-Right’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘extreme-Left’ have surged since 2014 alongside social justice phrases like ‘racist’ and ‘white supremacy’ whose explosion in frequency has been dubbed the Great Awokening.

Although it goes in both political directions, the use of extreme language is slanted against the Right, with Left-leaning outlets like the Guardian, Independent and Mirror using extreme language for the Right 5.6 times more often than for the Left, as figure 1 shows. Meanwhile, the Right-leaning Mail, Telegraph and Sun only use extreme language for the Right 2.1 times as often as for the Left. Centrist sites like the BBC use extreme language for the Right around 3 times as often as they do for the Left.

In part this reflects the rise in support for the populist Right following the 2014 European elections. Yet Left-leaning sources are considerably more likely than those on the Right to characterise the Right or conservatives as extreme. In a number of stories we sampled, Right-wing outlets characterising the Right as extreme were quoting Left-wing politicians and papers, and vice-versa.

The ratio and pattern over time in use of these terms in Britain is similar to what we find for the US.

Blue line: terms include (non-exhaustive) ‘far-Left, ‘radical Left’, ‘ultraliberal’, ‘Left-wing radical’. Red line: ‘far-Right’, ‘radical right’, ‘ultraconservative’, ‘Right-wing radical’. Fig 1 source: Rozado and Kaufmann 2022

The rise in the use of extreme terms to characterise both Right (red line below) and Left (blue) trends in tandem with use of prejudice terms such as ‘racist’ or ‘white supremacy’ (orange) and social justice terms like ‘diversity’ and ‘bias’ (green) — and this takes place at roughly the same time in America and Britain. One explanation is that woke radicalism and Right-wing reaction are locked in a spiral of recursive radicalisation. Media may have become increasingly partisan, or political actors may actually have grown more extreme, but the end result is an increasingly fractious media discourse.

Fig 2 source: Rozado and Kaufmann 2022

While it is unclear precisely what is producing our hyperbolic post-2015 news diet, British patterns look very similar to those in the United States. If media output is a leading indicator of mass polarisation, this could portend even choppier waters ahead for Britain.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
38 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nick G
Nick G
4 months ago

“Centrist sites like the BBC use extreme language for the Right around 3 times as often as they do for the Left.“
So how can it be described as “centrist”?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago

An interesting article that certainly highlights the much greater readiness to characterise a party or proposal as far-right in left leaning papers and the relative reluctance to call a party or proposal as being extreme-left in all the papers.

The problem is that characterising a newspaper as centrist or right leaning does not in fact accurately describe the journalistic slant of the writers of that paper. I subscribe to the Telegraph whose writers regularly refer to the parties headed up by Victor Orban and Le Pen as far-right although voting and polls show them to be supported by a majority or significant proportion of their national populations and their policies are in fact simply more nationalist than some of the other parties on offer. Both are mainstream parties not parties of the fringes.

The comment columns make it clear that the readership of all papers are significantly more conservative than the journalists writing in them. In the Telegraph the ability to comment is often restricted where it is clear that the article does not represent the general views of the readership just as this is standard practice in the Guardian.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Exactly so.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Taking just the three broadsheets, I’d say they’ve all moved left. The Telegraph is now centrist, The Times now looks centre left and The Guardian is now Pravda.
As you point out, the readership have not made a similar shift to the left. Maybe this is the problem for the journalists, who from their perspective, everyone is lurching right. The reality is, the populace is on the platform, and the journalists are the bullet train departing at 300mph.

Miriam Cotton
Miriam Cotton
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

In your world view!

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 months ago
Reply to  Miriam Cotton

And what world view is that then?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
4 months ago
Reply to  Miriam Cotton

Would you like to offer an alternative perspective ?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

MIriam, yes I’m also curious…

David Bell
David Bell
4 months ago
Reply to  Miriam Cotton

Mine, too, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Thank you, Mr Bray! I also subscribe to the Telegraph, having abandoned my subscription to the Times for reasons such as those discussed in the article. You are right about the DT’s use of “far-right”, and I’ve complained about that in the comments sections. At least those comments have been allowed to stand. You also hit the nail on the head when you say “the readership of all papers are [is?] significantly more conservative the the journalists writing in them.”

David Bell
David Bell
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Out of touch with their readership and I suspect, willfully so. Similar to politicians and the electorate.

Trevor Q
Trevor Q
4 months ago

More and more people seem to be voting with their feet and turning away from the MSM, some of which is at risk of disappearing up its own sphincter.

jill dowling
jill dowling
4 months ago
Reply to  Trevor Q

I hope so

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
4 months ago

Thank you for this article and its revealing graphics.

Countless times we have read below-the-line comments – including I am sorry to say, on this and other serious current affairs websites – protesting against the lazy or prejudiced use of terms like ‘far-right’ to vilify normal, mainstream, widely-supported democratic parties.

PS: would quite like to understand what a ‘spiral of recursive radicalisation’ is, though.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

‘spiral of recursive radicalisation’:
I think it’s trying to explain a feedback loop. We see this a lot in echo chambers. If only one view becomes acceptable, some individuals likely take a more extreme position on that view, which will drag others along with them. The new standard view then feeds back into the system and the process begins again.

David McKee
David McKee
4 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

A ‘spiral of recursive radicalisation’ means increasing polarisation. As one side ups the ante by becoming more extreme, the other feels compelled to match it, and raise the ante even further.
This is a good explanation for why the Brexit debate became so bitter, and why divorcing couples behave so self-destructively.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

A ‘spiral of recursive radicalisation’ means increasing polarisation. As one side ups the ante by becoming more extreme, the other feels compelled to match it, and raise the ante even further.
I cannot agree. The left has been at it for decades. It ids only now, having been left with little choice, that the ight is catching on.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
4 months ago

Haidt and others have discussed the interesting phenomenon that folks on “the right” (not a term I like, but…) have a much better understanding of their opponents’ arguments and are much more able to articulate them properly than are folks on the left, who are more likely to straw-man and completely misunderstand right-wing views.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris Milburn

It is indeed a strange phenomenon.

Similarly, I think Brexit-supporters, even though they may not be persuaded by them, can understand pro-EU views.

But plenty of EU supporters cannot – literally cannot – understand why anyone could possibly decide in favour of Brexit.

How to explain this asymmetry?

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
4 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

That’s easy: learning from history. When you humbly learn and understand the history of political movements in the 20th century, you understand political ambition, and the scope for human disaster on a planetary scale. You realize that every idea for social ‘equality’ has been tried already, and how good intentions turned into 20th century horror. You accept that humans are fundamentally flawed, and that simple solutions have complex side effects. So you may not understand all the variables in the human equation, but you do know that there are too many variables, and the ‘equality’ equation is unsolvable by governments, however smart. The Left, ignorant of history, thinks it is has the best theories, and the Right is bigoted. The Right understands history, and knows why the Left’s solutions are always catastrophic in practice. That’s why we can articulate their ideas, but they can’t articulate ours.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  Simon Tavanyar

Yes. The world outlook that can be called (very broadly) conservative or traditional has characteristics which you describe. Part of it is the humility and patience to observe the nature of humanity, and the universe in general, before leaping to some perfectionist ‘solution’. The world is the way it is, and human institutions have been formed over the millennia to accommodate and regulate human nature, all imperfect as it is.

Or: the mesmerism of theory versus the discernment of reality.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris Milburn

So true.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago

Back in the 60s and 70s all generations of my family used to sit down together and enjoy Steptoe and Son, ‘Til Death us do Part, Dave Allen, Morecombe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, Mike Yarwood, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and all sorts of soaps amd dramas. Somehow these programmes managed to appeal across the board such that there was enough give and take to portray, accomodate and criticise or lampoon all sides to each other. And on Sunday a huge assortment of many newspapers was read by all. Agreement to differ was not only possible but usual. How things have changed.

Last edited 4 months ago by Martin Smith
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago

There was an interesting article on Fox News along the lines that for the last 30 years or more the Democrats have used every tactic under the Sun to challenge any Republican nomination for the Supreme Court and voted exclusively on party lines, while at the any time denouncing legitimate questioning of any Democratic nominee and accusing Republicans voting against the nomination as dong so purely partisan reasons.
The Republicans on the other had have been far more reasoned and balanced in their treatment of Democratic nominees and, at least until now far less likely to vote on purely partisan lines.
I would say the issue runs deeper than the press and that it is clear who is to blame for setting us on this course.

William Hickey
William Hickey
4 months ago

The trouble — leading to recursive radicalization — is that the hard partisan strategy has proven effective for the Democrats.

Their SCOTUS nominees are all rock-solid progressives, while the less partisan Republicans end up with “mistakes” like Kennedy, Souter and Roberts.

Just like the media only makes errors in one direction, so the Senate only flubs judicial nominations that serve one party — the party that had fewer nominations, but whose ideology remained “competitive” even with less turns at bat.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  William Hickey

Too true

David McDowell
David McDowell
4 months ago

Written by a real comedian. Describing the BBC as centrist. How funny is that.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
4 months ago

The essential, perceptual difference between the left and the right — and I speak here as a former leftist of some 35 years — is the leftist assumption (which is often subconscious) that things just “get better” over time. Inevitable progress. There is so much to unpack here, but the problem is that leftists never pause to do so. In my case, there was always a latent conflict between my Catholicism and my socialism. On their face, they seem quite similar, which allowed me to continue in a kind of shotgun marriage for decades, but in the end, they won’t gel. It’s one or the other, because they won’t bind, not if you understand Catholicism.

Unfortunately, most people didn’t get the grounding in it that I did, and they fall for the “inevitable progress” shtick. What they don’t realise is that what they’re actually doing is just taking themselves as the standard of good. Abortion is easier than childbearing, so I’ll have an abortion; after all, it’s not like “the old days”, so I’ll still be a good person. Walking out on my wife and children for a younger model is better than staying in the marriage because I’d only make them miserable, so this is really for them; it’s not like “the old days”.

Once it becomes clear in a person’s mind that technological progress — which more or less IS inevitable — is not the same as moral progress — which doesn’t happen; people know what’s right and wrong, and it never changes — then you see “inevitable progress” for the grift it is.

And, of course, thereby hangs the problem. Because people DO have a desire to be good, it’s just that we very rarely ARE, it being much, much easier to be selfish. So we create this chimera of “inevitable progress” to justify ourselves, knowing full well it’s nonsense, which means that when we’re challenged on it, we’re struck on a very raw nerve. When that happens, the reaction is often visceral and ballistic, hence the screeching and roaring about “racism” and “the far-right” and this, that and the other “phobe”, and that’s why it’s less prevalent on the right, because that side of the aisle remains — Tory sex shenanigans notwithstanding — broadly closer to the natural law.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

“While it is unclear precisely what is producing our hyperbolic post-2015 news diet […]”

I believe it all stems from a corporate backlash to Occupy, the last gasp before the united left and right fought on an issue of economics. Reports of widespread cooperation between intelligence agencies and private companies during the protests in 2012 initially made me suspicious, but now I am pretty certain. The media has a vested interest in dividing and ruling an increasingly radicalised audience focussed exclusively on cultural issues while the corporate gravy train rumbles on.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Yes, the Establishment stirred up old racial resentments in the wake of Occupy in order to stop the working class from uniting.

Claire Dunnage
Claire Dunnage
4 months ago

One of the problems is what a term like, fascism, means to the people who are using it. I asked a friend of mine who considers himself a socialist, and supported Corbyn, how he defined fascism, after he told me the Tory party is run by the far right, by fascists. He said:
it is when it rules in the interests of the moneyed elite rather than the people,
When it flouts the rule of law
When it rouses the rabble against judges, opposition leaders etc
When it passes legislation to stifle peaceful protest,
When it lies with impunity
When it is corrupt.
When election laws are flouted.

This is not the definition most people would use, and it may explain why it is used with impunity against anyone who disagrees with them.

Su Mac
Su Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Claire Dunnage

Sounds like the Biden administration to a T…

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
4 months ago
Reply to  Claire Dunnage

You’ve just described the Labour party.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
4 months ago

A new paper by David Rozado and myself” sorry to be pedantic but dadgrabit, myself can’t write anything!

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago

Who owns the Guardian newspaper? And for how much longer are we going to continue the nonsense of calling these globalist propaganda rags ‘left wing’, when their core policies and ideologies are diametrically opposed to the interests of ordinary working people?

Last edited 4 months ago by Graham Stull
David Bell
David Bell
4 months ago

The writer omitted to mention the use and manipulation of photos and other imagery. A good example is the one used to accompany this article. Why use a picture of Nigel Farage from the GBnews website? Is the implication that Farage is “far-right”? It is also common to see the media use unflattering photos of those they disparage.

Miriam Cotton
Miriam Cotton
4 months ago

Annother way to look at this is that politics, the media and economics had moved consideraby to the right since 1979. This shift did not reflect the views of a substantial minority, possibly even a majority. After decades of undoing the welfare state etc and accelerated by the crash of 08, the authoritarianism of pandemic management, the media itself now more accurately reflects the popular (not populist) view, rightly or wrongly.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago
Reply to  Miriam Cotton

I’m always bemused when people try to make the distinction between ‘popular’ and ‘populist’. Can you explain it to me?