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Political Polarization and the Electoral Effects of Media Bias

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  • Dan Bernhardt
  • Stefan Krasa
  • Mattias Polborn

Abstract

Many political commentators diagnose an increasing polarization of the U.S. electorate into two opposing camps. However, in standard spatial voting models, changes in the political preference distribution are irrelevant as long as the position of the median voter does not change. We show that media bias provides a mechanism through which political polarization can affect electoral outcomes.In our model, media firms’ profits depend on their audience rating. Maximizing profits may involve catering to a partisan audience by slanting the news. While voters are rational, understand the nature of the news suppression bias and update appropriately, important information is lost through bias, potentially resulting in inefficient electoral outcomes. We show that polarization increases the profitability of slanting news, thereby raising the likelihood of electoral mistakes. We also show that, if media are biased, then there are some news realizations such that the electorate appears more polarized to an outside observer, even if citizens’ policy preferences do not change.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 1798.

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Date of creation: 2006
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_1798

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Keywords: media bias; polarization; information aggregation; democracy;

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References

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  1. Baron, David P., 2006. "Persistent media bias," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(1-2), pages 1-36, January.
  2. Timothy Feddersen & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 1997. "Voting Behavior and Information Aggregation in Elections With Private Information," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1560, David K. Levine.
  3. DellaVigna, Stefano & Kaplan, Ethan, 2006. "The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting," Seminar Papers 748, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  4. Wittman, Donald, 1989. "Why Democracies Produce Efficient Results," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1395-1424, December.
  5. Tim Groseclose & Jeffrey Milyo, 2005. "A Measure of Media Bias," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1191-1237, November.
  6. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2006. "Media Bias and Reputation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(2), pages 280-316, April.
  7. Martinelli, Cesar, 2006. "Would rational voters acquire costly information?," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 129(1), pages 225-251, July.
  8. Gerber, Alan & Karlan, Dean & Bergan, Daniel, 2006. "Does The Media Matter? A Field Experiment Measuring the Effect of Newspapers on Voting Behavior and Political Opinions," Working Papers 12, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  9. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-24, June.
  10. Sendhil Mullainathan & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "Media Bias," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1981, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  11. Martin J. Osborne, 1995. "Spatial Models of Political Competition under Plurality Rule: A Survey of Some Explanations of the Number of Candidates and the Positions They Take," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 28(2), pages 261-301, May.
  12. Baron, David P., 2004. "Persistent Media Bias," Research Papers 1845r, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  13. Sendhil Mullainathan & Andrei Shleifer, 2005. "The Market for News," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1031-1053, September.
  14. Dan Bernhardt & Stefan Krasa & Mattias Polborn, 2006. "Political Polarization and the Electoral Effects of Media Bias," CESifo Working Paper Series 1798, CESifo Group Munich.
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