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Media and Polarization

  • Campante, Filipe R.

    (Harvard University)

  • Hojman, Daniel

    (Harvard University)

This paper provides a model of how media environments affect political polarization. We first develop a model of how media environments, characterized by their levels of accessibility and variety of content, interact with citizens' ideological views and attitudes and political motivation. We then embed it in a model of majoritarian electoral competition in which politicians react to those media-influenced views. We show how equilibrium polarization is affected by changes in the media environment, through two channels: the variety effect, whereby a decrease in media variety leads to convergence in citizens' views and hence to lower polarization; and the composition effect, whereby a lowering of barriers to media accessibility increases turnout and hence lowers polarization, since newly motivated voters are relatively more moderate. We take the model's predictions to the data, in the US context of the introduction of broadcast TV, in the 1940s and 1950s, and radio, in the 1920s and 1930s. We show that, consistent with the model's predictions, TV decreased polarization, and exposure to (network) radio was correlated with lower polarization. The evidence suggests that the variety effect was more important than the composition effect.

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Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp10-002.

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Date of creation: Jan 2010
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp10-002
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  1. Chong, Alberto & Duryea, Suzanne & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2008. "Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil," CEPR Discussion Papers 6785, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  5. Campante, Filipe R. & Hojman, Daniel A., 2013. "Media and polarization," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 79-92.
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  11. Keefer, Philip & Knack, Stephen, 2002. " Polarization, Politics and Property Rights: Links between Inequality and Growth," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 111(1-2), pages 127-54, March.
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  13. Matthew A. Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2004. "Media, Education, and anti-Americanism in the Muslim World," Microeconomics 0402005, EconWPA.
  14. Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2009. "Linking Conflict to Inequality and Polarization," Working Papers 377, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  15. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro & Michael Sinkinson, 2009. "The Effect of Newspaper Entry and Exit on Electoral Politics," NBER Working Papers 15544, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. David Strömberg, 2004. "Radio's Impact on Public Spending," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 189-221, February.
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