Academic Study Shows Cable Bias and Effect on Presidential Voters

A study published this September in The American Economic Review suggests that those worried about the polarizing effects—and power—of cable news may indeed have cause for concern.  After a careful quantitative analysis of CNN, FNC, and MSNBC, the authors, Gregory J. Martin of Emory University and Ali Yurukoglu of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University:

estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news. Finally, we find that an influence-maximizing owner of the cable news channels could have large effects on vote shares, but would have to sacrifice some levels of viewership to maximize influence (http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/aer.20160812; p. 2597).

Although the study confirms widespread suspicions about cable channels’ effects on polarization, the paragraph above isn’t all bad news.  First, cable’s ability to polarize its viewers appears to have upper limits—since some watchers would defect if cable news became even more slanted.  Second, the study clearly indicates that these effects depend on “the existence of tastes for like-minded news.”

The good news, then, is that while cable news seems clearly connected to polarization, that connection cannot be stretched indefinitely—and may be weakened should consumers develop a taste for alternative-minded news.  How might they develop such a taste?  —Stay tuned.

 

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