Murdoch donates $1m to Republicans

He supported Obama in 2008, but now the media tycoon has made one of the Republicans’ biggest privat

Rupert Murdoch has donated $1m to the Republican Party in advance of the midterm elections in November.

The media magnate supported and praised Barack Obama from early on in the primary season in 2008, but has now turned to the Republicans, it seems. News Corporation commented that it supported the Republicans' "pro-business agenda" and felt that the party was aligned with "our priorities at this most critical time for our economy".

The Murdoch-owned titles the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as well as Fox News, have long been editorially aligned with the Republicans, and now Murdoch himself is following suit.

Crucially, the donation was made to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Although the main focus so far has been on the House and Senate races, where unusual candidates and unusually large predicted gains have drawn media attention, the GOP also looks likely to gain a majority of governorships. There are 37 governorships being contested this year, the most ever in a single election.

Unlike national political parties and individual candidates for the House and Senate, gubernatorial campaigns can accept unlimited donations from corporations. News Corporation has clearly taken advantage of this in choosing the destination of its funds.

Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming and Wisconsin all look likely to swing to the Republicans, and in several more states the race is too close to call. A combination of governing-party implosion and the after-effects of the recession will probably allow the Republicans to take six or seven governorships overall, despite a few potential wobbles by GOP candidates in Connecticut, Hawaii and Minnesota.

This is by no means the first time that Murdoch has switched political allegiances to favour his own business interests. In the UK, his famed switch from Conservative to Labour stands out, as does the less prominent switch back for the most recent general election.

Targeting the funding at gubernatorial races rather than those for the House and Senate is undoubtedly designed to further the "pro-business agenda" identified by News Corporation. Although there are variations with individual state constitutions, many governors wield immense power over budgeting and local government appointments, enabling them to set the agenda for regulation and taxation in their state. It increasingly seems that many state legislatures will also swing to the Republicans, and so new governors aren't likely to have much trouble passing legislation once they're in office.

According to information released through the Internal Revenue Service, the RGA has raised $58m in the first half of this year to the Democrats' $40m. In addition to benefiting from anti-incumbent sentiment and recession backlash, the RGA has received significant donations from health insurance giants such as Wellpoint, in response to the passage of the Democrats' health-care bill earlier this year.

Across the US, the midterms are going to be a useful political bellwether for how the parties are really faring post-2008. Murdoch's donation signals perhaps the most intriguing area: how many governorships can the Republicans take?

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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Who's winning the European referendum? The Vicar of Dibley gives us a clue

These polls seem meaningless, but they reveal things more conventional ones miss.

At the weekend, YouGov released some polling on 30 fictional characters and their supposed views on Brexit.  If you calculate a net pro-Remain score (per cent thinking that person would back Remain minus the per cent thinking they’d vote for Leave), you have a list that is topped by Geraldine Granger, the Vicar of Dibley (+21), and ends with Jim Royle (-38).

It’s easy to mock this sort of thing, and plenty did: “pointless”, “polling jumping the shark”, and so on. Some even think pollsters ask daft questions just to generate cheap headlines. What a cynical world we live in.

But the answers to those questions tell you quite a lot, both about the referendum campaign and about voters in general.

For one thing, most of the fictional characters that people saw as voting to Remain are (broadly) nice people, whilst the Outers included a fair few you’d not want to be stuck in a lift with, along with other chancers and wasters. On one side, you have the Vicar of Dibley (+21), Mary Poppins (+13), Miranda (+11), and Dr Who (+9) taking on Hyacinth Bucket (-13), Tracy Barlow (-15), Del Boy (-28), and Basil Fawlty (-36) on the other. This isn’t really much of a contest.

Obviously, some of these are subjective judgements. Personally, I’d not want to be stuck in a lift with the Vicar of Dibley under any circumstances – but she’s clearly meant to be a broadly sympathetic character.  Ditto – with knobs on – Miranda. And yes, some of the Outer characters are more nuanced. Captain Mainwaring (-31) may be pompous and insecure, but he is a brave man doing his best for his country. But still, it’s hard not to see some sort of division here, between broadly good people (Remain) and some more flawed individuals (Out).

So, on one level, this offers a pretty good insight into how people see the campaigns.  It’s why polling companies ask these sort of left-field questions – like the famous Tin Man and Scarecrow question asked by John Zogby – because they can often get at something that normal questions might miss. Sure, they also generate easy publicity for the polling company – but life’s not binary: some things can generate cheap headlines and still be interesting.

But there are two caveats. First, when you look at the full data tables you find that the numbers saying Don’t Know to each of these questions are really big– as high as 55 per cent for both Tracy Barlow and Arthur Dent. The lowest is for both Basil Fawlty and Del Boy, but that’s still 34 per cent. For 26 out of the 30 characters, the plurality response was Don’t Know. The data don’t really show that the public think Captain Birdseye (-11) is for Out; when half of all respondents said they don’t know, they show that the public doesn’t really have a clue what Captain Birdseye thinks.

Much more importantly, second, when you look at the cross breaks, it becomes clear how much of this is being driven by people’s own partisan views. Take James Bond, for example. Overall, he was seen as slightly pro-Remain (+5). But he’s seen as pro-Brexit (-22) by Brexit voters, and pro-Remain (+30) by Remain voters.

The same split applies to Dr Who, Postman Pat, Sherlock Holmes, Miranda, and so on.

In fact, of the 30 characters YouGov polled about, there were just eleven where respondents from both sides of the debate agreed – and these eleven excluded almost all of the broadly positive characters.

So, here’s the ten characters where both Remain and Leave voters agreed would be for Brexit: Alan Partridge; Jim Royle; Del Boy; Hyacinth Bucket; Pat Butcher; Tracy Barlow; Captain Mainwaring; Catherine Tate’s Nan; Cruella De Vil; and Basil Fawlty.

That’s not a great roll call. And it must be saying something that even Outers think Cruella De Vil, Alan Patridge, and Hyacinth Bucket would be one of theirs.

Mind you, the only pro-Remain character that both sides agree on is Sir Humphrey Appleby. That’s not great either.

For the rest, everyone wants them for their own.

So what about those who say they don’t yet know how they will vote in the referendum? These might be the key swing voters, after all. Maybe they can give a more unbiased response. Turns out their ranking is broadly similar to the overall one – with scores that are somewhere between the views of the Outers and the Inners.

But with this group the figures for don’t knows get even bigger: 54 per cent at a minimum, rising to a massive 77 per cent for Arthur Dent.

And that’s because, lacking a partisan view about the referendum, they are not able to project this view onto fictional characters.  They lack, in the jargon, a heuristic enabling them to answer the question. Which tells you something about how most people answered the questions.

Philip Cowley is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.