Paper examines ‘manifold effects of partisan media’ on viewers

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Two researchers have released the results of a five-year study about the effects of partisan media on viewers’ beliefs and attitudes.

The paper is authored by David Broockman, an associate professor of political science at the University of California Berkeley, and Joshua Kalla, also a political science professor, who works at Yale University.

The study and paper is currently in preprint status, meaning it has not been peer-reviewed or published in a peer-reviewed journal or publication.

The paper’s abstract reads:

Partisan media impacts voting behavior, yet what changes in viewers’ beliefs or attitudes may underlie these impacts is poorly understood. We recruited a sample of regular Fox News viewers using data on actual TV viewership from a media company, and incentivized them to watch CNN instead for a month using real-time viewership quizzes. Despite regular Fox viewers being largely strong partisans, we found manifold effects of changing the slant of their media diets on their factual beliefs, attitudes, perceptions of issues’ importance, and overall political views. We show that these effects stem in part from a bias we call partisan coverage filtering, wherein partisan outlets selectively report information, leading viewers to learn a biased set of facts. Consistent with this, treated participants concluded that Fox concealed negative information about President Trump. Partisan media does not only present its side an electoral advantage—it may present a challenge for democratic accountability.

The 126-page paper covers a variety of topics and incorporates qualitative data about where viewers from differing political backgrounds fall on, for example, their categorization of President Joe Biden — whether that be “mean,” “honest” or “selfish” among other traits.

The paper devotes significant analysis to the COVID-19 pandemic and how information about it and related topics was spread and consumed by viewers.

Much of this data was gleaned from surveys the pair conducted.

The paper also puts forward “theoretical constructs” that include “agenda setting,” “framing” and “partisan coverage filtering” that appear as trends in today’s increasingly divisive world.