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Media and Polarization

  • Campante, Filipe Robin
  • Hojman, Daniel Andres

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 Kennedy School of Government in its series Scholarly Articles with number 4454154.

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Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Handle: RePEc:hrv:hksfac:4454154
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  1. Campante, Filipe R. & Hojman, Daniel A., 2013. "Media and polarization," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 79-92.
  2. Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2009. "Linking Conflict to Inequality and Polarization," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 766.09, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC), revised 25 Mar 2010.
  3. Robert Jensen & Emily Oster, 2007. "The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women's Status in India," NBER Working Papers 13305, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Montalvo, Jose G. & Reynal-Querol, Marta, 2005. "Ethnic diversity and economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(2), pages 293-323, April.
  5. Ruben Durante & Brian Knight, 2010. "Partisan Control, Media Bias, and Viewer Responses: Evidence from Berlusconi’s Italy," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/eu4vqp9ompq, Sciences Po.
  6. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:121:y:2006:i:3:p:931-972 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Melvin Hinich & Peter Ordeshook, 1969. "Abstentions and equilibrium in the electoral process," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 81-106, September.
  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. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:122:y:2007:i:3:p:1187-1234 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135.
  13. Matthew A. Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2004. "Media, Education, and anti-Americanism in the Muslim World," Microeconomics 0402005, EconWPA.
  14. Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2004. "Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2044, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  15. Stefano DellaVigna & Ethan Kaplan, 2006. "The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting," NBER Working Papers 12169, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Eliana La Ferrara & Alberto Chong & Suzanne Duryea, 2008. "Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil," Research Department Publications 4573, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  17. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:119:y:2004:i:1:p:189-221 is not listed on IDEAS
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