Media and voter behaviour

A little while ago the thought occurred to me that although I assume, or take it for granted, that media has some impact on people, I didn’t know what the research actually said about how media affected voting. There’s plenty out there about the psychology of advertising – but less came to mind for media and politics.

After a short burst of googling, here are some of the more interesting pieces I found:

  • A blog post digs a little into causality, and concludes that there are two-way relationships between basically everything.

My sense is that what we have here is a feedback loop. Does media attention increase a candidate’s standing in the polls? Yes. Does a candidate’s standing in the polls increase media attention? Also yes

  • A study run in 2005-2006 randomly gave free newspapers to households. While only run in one area of the US, the result showed that giving either a left-leaning or right-leaning paper resulted in a higher Democratic vote. Given the geographic constraints, hard to know how broadly applicable this is.
  • A paper that examined data from 1996 and 2000 (that seemed to be one of the more frequently cited) found that Fox News increased Republican vote share.
  • A 2015 paper (that I haven’t downloaded) concludes that public interest and media coverage both influence each other in the US Republican primary.
  • A 2016 analysis of UKIP concludes that media coverage does drive voter support.
  • John Sides argues that the media drives voter behaviour – it’s inconceivable that it wouldn’t.

It’s just that most of us, most of the time, have to rely on the media for information about the world, information that helps us determine which issues — or candidates — are worth paying attention to.  What else are we going to do?  Most of us don’t have the opportunity to talk to the candidates ourselves. And it’s not like we’re going to conduct our own original research (“Honey, I’ve spent the day reading 12 newspapers and every candidate’s Web page. Here’s what I’ve found.”)

So. Those are the articles I found in a quick search. It’s not a meta-analysis, or a literature review. If you find anything more interesting or more detailed, let me know. It’s an interesting question.


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