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SHOCKER: Americans do not blindly follow the media

Astounding! According to a new study by Stefano DellaVigna of the University of California, Berkeley and Ethan Kaplan of the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University, the introduction of the Fox News Channel into the market had no statistically significant effect on who people voted for, or voter turnout. (Via Drudge.) Apparently, people can think for themselves! This is bad news for those on either side who like to use the media as a scapegoat.

When they made statistical adjustments to hold constant differences in demographic characteristics and unemployment, and looked at differences in voting behavior between towns that introduced and did not introduce Fox within the same Congressional district, the availability of Fox had a small and statistically insignificant effect on the increase in the share of votes for the Republican candidate. Thus, the introduction of Fox news did not appear to have increased the percentage of people voting for the Republican presidential candidate. A similar finding emerged for Congressional and senatorial elections.Voter turnout also did not noticeably change within towns that offered Fox by 2000 compared with those that did not.

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Why was Fox inconsequential to voter behavior?

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The professors’ preferred explanation is that the public manages to “filter” biased media reports. Fox’s format, for example, might alert the audience to take the views expressed with more than the usual grain of salt. Audiences may also filter biases from other networks’ shows.

The tendency for people to regard television news and political commentary as entertainment probably makes filtering easier. Fox’s influence might also have been diluted because there were already many other ways to get political information.

I’d like to see a few studies on the Internet’s effect on voting. I think that’s where the real story is.