CSDP Hosts Conference on the Political Impact of the Media
On May 10th and 11th, the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP) sponsored an interdisciplinary conference exploring the political impact of the media. Prominent political scientists, economists, and communication scholars shared their research about how the media (TV, newspapers, online news, and social media) influence our political landscape, and conversely how politics affect the press, including questions about: partisan coverage of political scandals; how political blogs influence policy-making; the effect of endorsements on elections; and how partisan media may affect members of congress and therefore the likelihood of policy change. Markus Prior, Co-Director of CSDP and Associate Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Martin Gilens, Professor of Politics, and Maria Petrova, Professor of Economics at the New Economic School and 2012-2013 CSDP Visiting Scholar, organized the conference.
“Democracy works better when our media are diverse. Though we value ideological diversity, market forces underserve diversity compared to what a social planner would devise,” Matthew Gentzkow commented when presenting his research. Gentzkow is Richard O. Ryan Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Historically, newspapers were formally partisan, and research demonstrates that the “partisanship of the paper is usually permanent – we can predict the presidential endorsement of many papers today based on their affiliation seventy years ago,” described Jesse Shapiro, also Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
A major topic of research assesses the contribution of partisan media to political polarization among viewers, voters, and congressional representatives. Jonathan Ladd, Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, built on earlier work by Stefano DellaVigna and Ethan Kaplan that showed that when Fox News became available in specific locations, it increased support for George Bush in that location in the 2000 presidential election. Ladd’s research demonstrated that Fox News led to greater support for George W. Bush among Republicans and independents, but not among Democrats: “The more partisan media outlets we have, the more polarized are our election preferences.”
Shanto Iyengar, Chandler Chair in Communication and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, presented his paper’s conclusion that “proliferation of partisan news providers leads to increased partisan animus…. exposure to partisan media -- even for programming that is entirely non-political -- strengthens partisan identity. As Americans continue to turn away from objective news sources, we suspect even more ‘fear and loathing’ across party lines.”
Josh Clinton, Associate Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, showed that members of congress with Fox News available in their home districts shift to the right in their policy positions compared to members of congress whose constituents do not have access to Fox News. Professor Clinton noted that his results suggest that the national media may slightly affect the prospects for policy change by altering representatives' expectations and causing them to adjust the positions that they take.
Crossing international boundaries, Maria Petrova presented her research that demonstrates the significant effect of blog postings that challenge the government on the stock market in Russia, where almost half of media outlets are publicly traded (despite government control of the majority of the media).
Professor Gentzkow, summarizing the connections among media and political opinion and behavior, noted that “People do sincerely believe that the news source on ‘their’ side is better, more trustworthy, and more credible – for everything, including the weather.”
Click here for a full list of conference speakers and their paper titles.