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DellaVigna and Kaplan on Media Bias

is media bias necessarily a problem? The effect of media bias depends on how the audience processes the information broadcast by the media. If the audience is aware of the media bias and filters it from the information, distortions in media reporting are unlikely to have large effects on voter beliefs (Bray and Kreps, 1987). In this rational world, media bias does not persuade voters. Other theories hold that, instead, media bias persuades voters. This may occur because voters do not sufficiently account for bias in the media (De Marzo, Vayanos, and Zwiebel 2003). This, in turn, may be a direct effect of the framing of news (Lakoff, 1987). Ultimately, understanding the impact of media bias on voter beliefs and preferences is an empirical task. In this chapter, we first review some of the papers that have provided a measure of this impact. Most of these papers indicate a large impact of the media. However, some of the findings can also be explained by self-selection of voters into preferred media. For example, right-wing voters are more likely to expose themselves to right-wing media, giving an impression that the right-wing media persuades them. Other studies provide evidence of an impact on self-reported voting, or stated voting in a laboratory experiment, as opposed to voting in actual elections. In the rest of the paper, we summarize the result of a natural experiment that addresses the question of the impact of media bias on political preferences. We draw on DellaVigna and Kaplan (2007) which examines the timing of the entry of Fox News in local cable markets, and considers the impact on voting. Relative to DellaVigna and Kaplan (2007), we present new results on turnout for US Senate elections, as well as a more general analysis of persuasion rates.

Stefano DellaVigna and Ethan Kaplan (2007), “The Political Impact of Media Bias.” Available here.

Via Brendan Nyhan

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