The Fox News Factor: How the Spread of Fox News Affects Position Taking in Congress
41 Pages Posted: 3 May 2012 Last revised: 4 Oct 2012
Date Written: April 18, 2012
Scholars have argued that the media can affect voter opinions and turnout, but it is unclear whether elected officials are also affected in policy consequential ways. In part, this uncertainty is because it is difficult to disentangle the influence of media coverage on Congress from Congress's influence on media coverage. We use a unique opportunity to determine whether position taking behavior in Congress and the likelihood of incumbents being challenged is affected by the national news media. Using the fact that the Fox News Channel was launched in October 1996 and it gradually spread across congressional districts in the United States in a manner unrelated to the ideology of the district and the incumbent representative, we show that there is a modest effect on elected officials' positions -- representatives from districts where Fox News begins broadcasting become slightly more conservative relative to similar representatives in otherwise similar districts where Fox News is not present. Moreover, the effect of Fox News is largest among Democrats. However, we find no evidence that Fox News affected which representatives were re-elected. Overall, our results suggest that the national media may have a slight effect on the prospects for policy change by affecting representatives' expectations and causing them to slightly adjust the positions that they take.
Keywords: Media, US Congress, Natural Experiment
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