The Deficit Debate: Audience Studies

  • Mike Berry


This chapter draws on the findings of 16 focus group discussions conducted in Glasgow, Surrey and the Midlands over the summer of 2009. The focus groups were drawn from ‘naturally occurring’ groups of people and discussed participants’ media consumption and understanding of the deficit debate. The chapter finds that participants’ views on the deficit were very negative and alarmist reflecting the reporting of the issue in the media. Participants misidentified the key causal factors that drove the rise in the deficit. Rather than seeing the rise as a consequence of a shrinkage of the tax base during a severe recession most participants pointed to elements of public spending that had high and sustained media visibility such as government waste, immigration, welfare, bank bailouts, foreign wars, quangos and the EU. When questioned about what should be done to address the deficit participants advocated addressing the causal factors they identified—such as cutting immigration, welfare and waste. The chapter points to a powerful interaction between low levels of public understanding of the public finances and the impact of emotive media messages.


  1. Anderson, P. J., & Weymouth, T. (1999). Insulting the Public? The British Press and the European Union. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  2. Ashcroft, M. (2010). What Future for Labour? Available at: Date accessed 9 July 2018.
  3. Brittan, S. (2009, October 2). A Cool Look at the Current Deficit Hysteria. Financial Times.Google Scholar
  4. Deacon, D., & Monk, W. (2001). ‘New Managerialism’ in the News: Media Coverage of Quangos in Britain. Journal of Public Affairs, 1(2), 153–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Elliott, L. (2017, March 12). Labour Must Learn to Win if It Wants to Shape the UK’s Economic Future. Guardian. Available at: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  6. Gamble, A. (2015). The Economy. Parliamentary Affairs, 68(1), 154–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). (2010). Public Spending Under Labour. Available from: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  8. Ipsos-Mori. (2009). Public Spending Index – June 2009. Available from: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  9. Kidder, J. L., & Martin, I. W. (2012). What We Talk About When We Talk About Taxes. Symbolic Interaction, 35(2), 123–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Krugman, P. (2009). Deficit Hysteria. New York Times. Available from: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  11. Macmillan, L. (2011). Measuring the Intergenerational Correlation of Worklessness. The Centre for Market and Public Organisation Working Paper No. 11/278. Available at: Accessed 13 July 2018.
  12. Mason, R. (2013, September 12). MPs’ Expenses Rise to Almost £100m. Guardian. Available at: Accessed 13 July 2018.
  13. Migration Watch. (2013). UK Child Benefit and Non-UK Resident EU Children. Available at: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  14. New Economics Foundation. (2018). Framing the Economy: How to Win the Case for a Better System. Available at: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  15. Philo, G. (2010, August 15). Deficit Crisis: Let’s Really Be in It Together. Guardian.Google Scholar
  16. Reich, R. (2009, August 31). Why the Deficit Hysteria? I Only Wish We’d Borrow More. Guardian.Google Scholar
  17. Rutherford, T. (2013). Historical Rates of Social Security Benefits. House of Commons Library SN/SG 6762. Available from: Accessed 9 July 2018.
  18. Seabrooke, L. (2007). The Everyday Social Sources of Economic Crises: From ‘Great Frustrations’ to ‘Great Revelations’ in Interwar Britain. International Studies Quarterly, 51(4), 795–810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Shildrick, T., & MacDonald, R. (2013). Poverty Talk: How People Experiencing Poverty Deny Their Poverty and Why They Blame ‘the Poor’. The Sociological Review, 61(2), 285–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Shildrick, T., Macdonald, R., Furlong, A., Rodden, J., & Crow, R. (2012). Are ‘Cultures of Worklessness’ Passed Down the Generations. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available at: Accessed 10 July 2018.
  21. Stanley, L. (2014). ‘We’re Reaping What We Sowed’: Everyday Crisis Narratives and Acquiescence to the Age of Austerity. New Political Economy, 19(6), 895–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Taylor-Gooby, P., & Stoker, G. (2011). The Coalition Programme: A New Vision for Britain or Politics as Usual? The Political Quarterly, 82(1), 4–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Taylor-Gooby, P., & Taylor, E. (2015). Benefits and Welfare: Long-Term Trends or Short-Term Reactions? British Social Attitudes, 32. Available at: Accessed 10 July 2018.
  24. Ussher, K. (2015). Labour Did Not Cause the Economic Crisis – It Must Counter the Myth That It Did. Guardian. Available from: Accessed 10 July 2018.
  25. Wintour, P. (2015, June 3). The Undoing of Ed Miliband – And How Labour Lost the Election. Guardian. Available at: Accessed 10 July 2018.
  26. YouGov. (2010b). Unavoidable Cuts. Available at: Accessed 10 July 2018.
  27. YouGov. (2012). Class Survey Results. Available at: Accessed 10 July 2018.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mike Berry
    • 1
  1. 1.Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK

Personalised recommendations