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Does the media matter? A field experiment measuring the effect of newspapers on voting behavior and political opinions

  • Alan Gerber
  • Daniel Bergan
  • Dean Karlan

There is substantial evidence that media sources have identifiable political slants, but there has been relatively little study until recently of the effects on political views and behaviors of media bias or access. This paper reports the results of a natural field experiment to measure the effect of exposure to newspapers on political behavior and opinion. The Washington DC area is served by two major newspapers, the Washington Times and the Washington Post. We randomly assigned individuals either to receive a free subscription to the Washington Post, to receive a free subscription to the Washington Times, or to a control group. We then conducted a public opinion survey after the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial election. We find that those assigned to the Post treatment group were eight percentage points more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for governor than those assigned to the control group. We find similar but weaker evidence of shifts in public opinion on specific issues and attitudes.

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Paper provided by The Field Experiments Website in its series Natural Field Experiments with number 00252.

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Date of creation: 2006
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Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00252
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.fieldexperiments.com

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  1. Timothy Besley & Robin Burgess, 2000. "The Political Economy of Government Responsiveness: Theory and Evidence from India," STICERD - Development Economics Papers - From 2008 this series has been superseded by Economic Organisation and Public Policy Discussion Papers 28, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  2. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
  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. 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.
  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, 2006. "Television and Voter Turnout," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(3), pages 931-972, 08.
  7. Lisa M. George & Joel Waldfogel, 2006. "The New York Times and the Market for Local Newspapers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 435-447, March.
  8. Sendhil Mullainathan & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "Media Bias," NBER Working Papers 9295, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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