How do partisan media affect polarization and partisanship? The rise of Fox News, MSNBC, and hyper-partisan outlets online gives this question fresh salience, but in this paper, we argue that the question is actually not new: prior to the broadcast era, newspapers dominated American mass communication. Many of these were identified as supporting one party over the other in their news coverage. While scholars have studied the composition and impact of the partisan press during their 19th-century height, the political impact of the gradual decline of these partisan papers remains relatively under-examined. The unnoted vitality and endurance of partisan newspapers (which constituted a majority of American newspapers until the 1960s) represents a huge hole in our understanding of how parties communicate. As a consequence of this omission, scholars have ignored a potentially vital contributing factor to changing patterns of partisan voting. In this paper, we examine both the degree and influence of partisanship in historical newspapers. We begin by content analyzing news coverage in the Los Angeles Times from 1885-1986 and the Atlanta Constitution from 1869-1945. To avoid problems of selection bias and the absence of a neutral baseline of coverage in the coded news, we focus on a subset of partisan news for which we have access to neutral coverage of a full population of potential stories: the obituaries of U.S. Senators. By coding whether and how the papers covered the deaths of these partisans over time, we are able to systematically test for bias. We then collect information on newspaper editorial stances from Editor and Publisher’s Annual Yearbook to examine the impact of newspaper partisanship on voting patterns in presidential elections from 1932-92. Specifically, we test whether the proportion of partisan news outlets in a given media market explains changes in the rate of polarized voting.
What do Americans think about the US role in world affairs and why do they think as they do? Existing scholarship identifies some general attitudes Americans hold toward world affairs, rejecting isolationism and favoring multilateralism, but few studies explore more specific attitudes such as assessments of US standing in the world (defined as foreign views of America’s capability, credibility and esteem abroad). American National Election Study data from 1958-2008 provide one such data point, which shows a strong correlation between party identification and attitudes toward US standing defined as weakness. When Democrats occupy the White House, Republicans generally see US standing falling. The reverse holds true when Republicans hold the White House. Past studies conclude that this correlation is primarily a matter of partisanship and domestic political ideology (conservative vs. liberal). In this article we investigate a deeper and more novel explanation rooted in the independent influence of individuals’ foreign policy worldviews. Respondents assess US standing based on nationalist, realist, conservative and liberal internationalist views of the world. Across multiple statistical investigations, we find that while party ID remains a powerful heuristic for defining attitudes toward standing, foreign policy worldviews also exert a distinct influence on such attitudes, especially for more politically sophisticated respondents.
This paper uses an online media exposure experiment to examine the role of selective exposure on attitude formation and reinforcement regarding the U.N. intervention in Libya shortly after its initiation. In particular, we examine both the baseline level of selective exposure behavior and levels following treatment to a condition where participants thought they might be called upon to defend their positions in a debate format. We find evidence that both the personal characteristics and attitudes of participants, as well as the setting in which they are being asked to conduct their information search, influence the quality and extensiveness of their information search, as well as their likelihood to expose themselves to information that disputes their prior opinions and incorporate such arguments into their reasoning process.
Why does media coverage of foreign policy vary across and within countries? We examine the sources of this variation using a new dataset of 102,568 articles on the 2011 Libyan uprising and subsequent NATO intervention published by 1,925 newspapers in 50 countries. We find that newspaper ownership structures and networks play an important role in shaping the nature and extent of foreign policy coverage. Higher circulation, independent newspapers offer more extensive coverage and place a greater emphasis on hard news topics and themes, while papers within larger ownership networks display the opposite patterns, net of circulation. In the context of the Arab Spring, we also find that -- compared to more selective forms of violence -- incidents of indiscriminate force by the Libyan regime tended to push newspapers toward a greater focus on policy-oriented stories and more open critique of a government’s performance in managing the crisis. By shaping the scope, tone and content of media coverage, these factors are likely to play important roles in determining whether and under what circumstances citizens support their countries’ foreign policies.
It is virtually a truism in American politics that a focus on some issue areas during election campaigns, like national security or traditional values, redounds to the benefit of Republicans, while emphasis on other areas, like education or social security, benefits Democrats. Political scientists refer to this phenomenon as “issue ownership” (Petrocik 1996, Ansolabehere and Iyengar 1994). To the extent that one or the other party benefits disproportionately from media emphasis on particular issues during election campaigns, it is possible that, whether intended or not, media coverage may disproportionately benefit one or the other party. If so, this would appear to be an important potential form of bias. Baum and Gussin (2004) find that typical individuals use media outlet labels as a heuristic, to assess the validity of information presented by different outlets. Liberals tended to “find” a conservative bias in outlets they believed, ex ante, have a conservative slant, even if the content was actually from an outlet that they believed to have a liberal slant. The opposite was true for conservatives. We extend that research by investigating how issue ownership and the Hostile Media Outlet Phenomenon mediate, separately and in interaction, voter perceptions of media campaign coverage. We look at the effects of story selection on individuals’ perceptions concerning which party benefits more from media issue coverage. To do so, we conducted an experimental content analysis in which we asked subjects to code transcripts and articles, from eight major network and cable news broadcasts and newspapers, about the 2000 presidential campaign. We modified the transcripts and articles to create three distinct sets of treatment stimuli. One set correctly identified the source of the material. The second incorrectly identified the source and, in the third, all identifying elements were removed. We investigate whether individuals with differing political preferences are more or less likely to view certain issues as favorable to one or the other party, as well as the extent to which their propensity to do so is mediated by media outlets’ “brand names,” independent of the true sources of news coverage. We find that, except when they have strong prior beliefs about the ideological orientation of a media outlet, our subjects rely far more on issue ownership as a heuristic than on the hostile media heuristic. However, when they do have strong prior beliefs regarding outlet ideology, the opposite pattern prevails, with subjects relying on the hostile media heuristic to evaluate news content.
Building on recent work in evolutionary psychology, we predict substantial gender-related differences in demand for scandalous political news. We argue that individuals’ self-images can alter their motivation to seek information about potential sexual competitors and mates, even when those figures are “virtual”—appearing in mass media. Individuals perceiving themselves as attractive will seek negative news about attractive same-gender individuals, whereas individuals perceiving themselves as unattractive will seek negative information about the opposite gender. We test our hypotheses in three ways. First, we investigate partially disaggregated national opinion data regarding news attention. Second, we conduct an experiment in which we asked participants to choose the two most interesting stories from a menu of headlines. We varied the gender and party affiliation of the individual featured in the story. Each participant saw aheadline promoting a DUI arrest of an attractive male or female “rising star” from one of the two parties. Finally, we repeat the experiment with a national sample, this time also varying the valence of the tabloid story. We find strong correlations between respondents’ self-image and their likelihood of seeking and distributing positive or negative information about “virtual” competitors and mates.